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Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng convicted in UN bribery trial

Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, center, heading to

Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, center, heading to a Manhattan court 2015, was convicted on Thursday, July 27, 2017 in a scheme to pay off United Nations officials to support a development in Macau. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

After less than seven hours of deliberation, a federal jury in Manhattan on Thursday convicted billionaire Chinese developer Ng Lap Seng of paying more than $1 million in bribes to two United Nations ambassadors to get support for a massive real estate development.

Ng, 69, a politically-connected figure with gambling and real estate interests in Macau, faces up to 65 years in prison for corrupting the global-peace body after being convicted on six counts of conspiracy, money laundering and violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

“Through bribes and no-show jobs, Ng turned leaders of the league of nations into his private band of profiteers,” Manhattan Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said. “If you bring corruption to New York — whether to the state Capitol in Albany or to the halls of the U.N. General Assembly — your journey may very well end . . . with a unanimous jury announcing your guilt.”

Ng was accused of paying off Francis Lorenzo, a Dominican diplomat who became a government witness, and the late Antigua Ambassador John Ashe, president of the General Assembly, to help get a U.N. endorsement for a convention center in Macau for underdeveloped countries that he hoped would become a “Geneva of Asia.”

Prosecutors said Ng was going to build the convention center for free as his “legacy” and use it to anchor a for-profit 5,000-room hotel, marina, apartment and commercial complex on a man-made island. Ashe was also charged in the case, but died in a weightlifting accident.

After a monthlong trial, the verdict came on the first day of deliberations. Ng was impassive as the verdict was announced, and his lawyers declined to comment leaving court. Jurors also declined to comment. No sentencing date was set.

Since his arrest in 2015, Ng has been permitted to live in a luxury apartment in midtown Manhattan worth more than $3 million, guarded by a private security force he hired. After the conviction, prosecutors urged U.S. District Judge Vincent Broderick to jail the billionaire.

Defense lawyer Tai Park told Broderick his client had been a “model defendant” and the defense team had “substantial” legal issues to raise. Broderick agreed to continue a home-detention arrangement at least until a hearing on Aug. 7, but said he wanted security tighter than ever.

“He is not to leave the apartment — no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Broderick said.

Ng, who had been linked to a 1990s campaign finance scandal involving foreign donations to Democrats to help Bill Clinton, was arrested in 2015 after bringing large sums of cash to the U.S. on several occasions.

He said he used the money on gambling, art and renovations at an Old Brookville mansion owned by a business partner who federal agents believed was linked to Chinese intelligence. Ng contended the U.S. charged him because it feared the convention center would increase China’s clout in the developing world.

According to trial testimony, Ng paid Lorenzo $20,000 a month to head up an online news site and later raised it to $50,000 as he pressed for help on the convention center. He gave $200,000 to support Ashe’s presidency, paid for a vacation, and funded a no-show job for Ashe’s wife.

The defense said he was throwing money around as part of a “public-private partnership” to develop the convention center, and was taken advantage of and betrayed.

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