US jury finds Macau billionaire Ng Lap Seng guilty in UN bribery case

Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng exiting the US Federal Court in New York.
Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng exiting the US Federal Court in New York.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A US jury on Thursday (July 27) found Macau billionaire Ng Lap Seng guilty on charges he bribed two United Nations ambassadors to help him build a multibillion-dollar conference centre.

Ng, 69, was convicted on all six counts he faced, including bribery, money laundering and corruption, in the US District Court in Manhattan. Jurors needed less than a day to reach a verdict, following a four-week trial.

"In his unbridled pursuit of even greater personal fortune, billionaire Ng Lap Seng corrupted the highest levels of the United Nations," Acting US Attorney Joon Kim said after the verdict. "Through bribes and no-show jobs, Ng turned leaders of the league of nations into his private band of profiteers."

Mr Tai Park, a lawyer for Ng, said in court that his client had "substantial" legal issues to raise on appeal. Mr Park later declined to comment to reporters.

Prosecutors accused Ng of paying more than US$1 million (S$1.4 million) in bribes to bypass the normal hassles of dealing with the UN, with a dream of winning "fame and more fortune" by developing in Macau what he thought of as the "Geneva of Asia".

Ng hoped the conference centre, meant to serve developing countries, would pave the way for luxury housing, hotels, a mall, marinas and a heliport, prosecutors said.

Defence lawyers countered that Ng's goals were consistent with the types of public-private partnerships that the UN favours, and that other diplomats abused Ng's trust.

The conference centre was never built. “We are exploring the possibility of requesting restitution as a victim to these crimes, including recovering expenses incurred to provide the requested cooperation,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Ng has been freed on US$50 million bail, living under 24-hour guard in a luxury Manhattan apartment.

After Assistant US Attorney Daniel Richenthal warned that Ng could now be a flight risk, US District Judge Vernon Broderick modified bail by subjecting Ng to house arrest. "He is not to leave the apartment: no ifs, ands or buts about it," the judge said.

Judge Broderick scheduled an Aug 7 hearing to decide whether to revoke bail.

Prosecutors said the recipients of Ng's bribes were Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy ambassador from the Dominican Republic, and John Ashe, a former UN General Assembly president and ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda.

Lorenzo pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering, and testified against Ng for more than a week after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.

Ashe was also criminally charged, but died accidentally at home in June 2016 after dropping a barbell on his neck.