A federal magistrate in Manhattan on Friday ordered the release of Macau billionaire Ng Lap Seng from a federal jail and ruled that he can instead pay for armed guards to hold him in his $3.6 million East Side condominium while he awaits trial on bribery charges.
U.S. Magistrate Kevin Fox approved the plan for Ng, accused last week of scheming to pay off United Nations officials to get support for a development in Macau, over fierce government opposition to allowing Ng to special treatment because of his money.
"Private security guards are not law enforcement officers. A private apartment building is not a Bureau of Prisons facility," said prosecutor Daniel Richenthal. "It is not appropriate for a wealthy defendant to buy his freedom in this manner. He is asking this court to approve a private fake prison."
The arrangement, with a firm called GuidePost Security run by a top ex-prosecutor, will cost Ng $100 an hour for each of two guards around the clock -- roughly $35,000 a week. Fox also ordered electronic monitoring and posting $20 million and the condo as bail.
Similar arrangements were used to release Bernie Madoff and French politician Dominique Strauss-Khan, who was eventually cleared of raping a hotel maid, when they were first charged.
Ng has been imprisoned since mid-September, when he was charged with bringing more than $4 million in cash into the country and lying to customs officials about what it was being used for. He was later charged with the UN bribery scheme.