Britain returns $60 million corruption assets to Macau

MACAU (AFP) - Britain has returned 28 million pounds (S$60.36 million) worth of illegal foreign assets to Macau from a former minister jailed for bribery, authorities announced Tuesday.

The assets belonged to Macau's ex-transport and public works minister Ao Man Long, who is currently serving 29 years in jail over a multi-million-dollar corruption scandal.

"Today, Ao Man Long's illegal foreign assets have for the most part been successfully recovered," Macau's justice minister Sonia Chan told reporters.

Ao, who was in office between 1999 and 2006, was first arrested in December 2006 by the Macau Commission Against Corruption.

He had amassed a personal fortune of more than US$100 million (S$140 million) in his seven years in office - 57 times his family's income during that time.

"The UK first engaged with the Macanese authorities in July 2007 so it's been the outcome of a very long and complex process," said Caroline Wilson, Britain's consul-general for Hong Kong and Macau, speaking with Chan.

"Cooperation with the government of the UK has resulted in this fantastic achievement of 28 million pounds sterling of the proceeds of corruption (going) back to Macau."

Ao was convicted in 2008 and 2009 of taking payments from contractors in return for approving either land sales or major construction projects in Macau.

He was also found guilty in 2012 of three counts of money laundering and six counts of bribe-taking.

The 2012 trial heard Ao had received HK$20 million (S$3.6 million) from two Hong Kong tycoons for the acquisition of land on which a HK$20 billion luxury residential project was being built.

The tycoons - Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau and business partner Steven Lo - were found guilty in March last year of bribing Ao in an attempt to purchase the development site.

The pair were sentenced to five years in prison but have never spent any time behind bars because Macau does not have an extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

The recovery of Ao's assets comes weeks after a former president of the UN General Assembly, John Ashe, was charged with taking US$1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen in Macau.

Ashe allegedly took bribes in exchange for backing a proposed UN conference centre in Macau promoted by wealthy Chinese developer Ng Lap Seng.

Ng was arrested in New York along with associate Jeff Yin for smuggling more than US$4.5 million in cash into the United States over a two-year period.