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Bail denied to ex-diplomat charged in forced labor scheme

Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, center, arrives at

Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, center, arrives at federal court in Manhattan on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015. Ng is accused of scheming to pay off United Nations officials to get support for a development in Macau.. Credit: Charles Eckert

The former Chinese diplomat charged this week in a forced-labor scheme involving workers brought in on diplomatic visas and a Long Island property is a nephew of politically connected Chinese billionaire Wenliang Wang, a prosecutor said at a Brooklyn federal court bail hearing on Thursday.

The disclosure came as lawyers for Dan Zhong, 46, of Livingston, New Jersey, asked a magistrate to release him on a $10 million bond with $5 million in cash and a $144,000-a-month contract with a private security firm to guard him, while prosecutors said his family’s fortune was too big to rely on any bail package.

Zhong’s uncle Wang runs China Rilin Construction Group and businesses ranging from ports and shipping to soybeans and real estate. According to news reports, he has donated major sums to New York University and The Clinton Foundation, and contributions he made to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe have been the subject of law enforcement scrutiny.

“He is the one who has these vast sums of wealth,” prosecutor Douglas Pravda told U.S. Magistrate Ramon Reyes, who approved a bail package Thursday morning that was overturned later by U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson. Johnson ordered Zhong detained after the government appealed.

Zhong and an associate who is now in China have been accused of using U.S. Rilin Corp., which Zhong ran, to bring workers from China under special visas allowing them to do construction at Chinese diplomatic facilities, and then using “debt bondage” contracts to make them stay and work on private projects.

One of the projects was a $10 million mansion in Old Brookville that has figured in two other recent federal cases. Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, accused of bribing UN diplomats, was questioned about the intelligence connections of the mansion’s owner, businessman Qin Fei, and a Queens woman has been accused of obstruction of justice for allegedly helping the owner flee the United States.

In yesterday’s hearing, Solomon referred to workers at Zhong’s company as “slave labor” and said they had been crammed into substandard housing in Jersey City and held at times under lock and key.

Lawyers for Zhong disputed prosecutors’ claims that his company was an affiliate of his uncle’s Chinese conglomerate, said workers voluntarily came here to make more money, and said China was engaged in sealed litigation in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over diplomatic immunity issues in the case.

Defense lawyer Thomas Fitzpatrick also said a contract to have Zhong detained at his house by armed guards from Guidepost Solutions — a firm that is also guarding Ng at his Manhattan condo — would ensure that he would stay in the United States to face charges.

Johnson rejected the plan, and Fitzpatrick declined to comment on whether he would appeal.

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