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Closing arguments in bribery trial of billionaire Chinese developer

Closing arguments are underway in the United Nations

Closing arguments are underway in the United Nations bribery trial of Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng in Manhattan federal court. He is shown leaving court on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. Photo Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

Billionaire Chinese developer Ng Lap Seng paid “top dollar for the influence of top ambassadors” to buy support for a Macau conference center he wanted to be “the Geneva of Asia,” a prosecutor said Tuesday at the United Nations bribery trial in Manhattan federal court.

“The defendant cheated,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg told jurors in her summation as the monthlong trial neared its climax. “He tried to bribe his way past the United Nations rules and procedures to have an inside track, a clear path.”

Ng, 69, is charged with making payoffs totaling more than $1 million from 2010 to 2015 to former Dominican diplomat Francis Lorenzo, a government cooperating witness, and to the late Antiguan Ambassador John Ashe, who served as president of the UN General Assembly.

The government says he wanted help getting a UN endorsement for an expo center that would serve as a gathering place for developing nations, which he planned to build for free on a man-made island to anchor a 5,000-room luxury hotel, apartments and commercial development.

Lorenzo, 50, during a week testifying, said Ng paid him $20,000 a month to run South-South News, an online publication focused on developing countries, later upped it to $50,000 a month, and used him to funnel more than $300,000 to Ashe, mostly to fund his General Assembly presidency.

But the defense contends Lorenzo and Ashe lured Ng into trying to fund a “public-private partnership” to advance the cause of helping poor countries, and then ripped him off and turned on him when the FBI began asking questions, portraying legitimate relationships as corrupt.

“This case was about philanthropy and betrayal, not bribery,” defense lawyer Tai Park told jurors. “Mr. Ng literally threw his money in every direction he was asked . . . He was the private party in a partnership. You cannot even begin to understand what was in my client’s heart and mind, whether he intended to commit a crime, without that concept.”

Before trial, the defense said the criminal case was designed by the government to undercut a conference center that could enhance China’s status in the developing world, and prosecutors suggested Ng’s efforts may have been sanctioned by the Chinese government.

Those claims have not been explicitly aired before the jury. Echenberg said Ng didn’t go through Chinese diplomats because he didn’t have the “patience,” and some of his payments — such as a $6,000 a month no show job for Ashe’s wife — reflected a corrupt arrangement, not a partnership.

“There’s no evidence this mattered to John Ashe until he and his wife started getting money,” she said. “This was the defendant’s idea. This was what he wanted.”

Park spent much of his summation targeting the credibility of Lorenzo, who was involved in separate schemes with Ashe and also faced tax charges until, Park said, he agreed to characterize as “bribes” payments that violated no U.N. rules and that Ng thought were legitimate.

“There is nothing wrong with what he did,” Park said.

Ng was arrested in 2015 after several trips to bring large sums of cash into the United States. He said it was for gambling, art and renovations on an Old Brookville mansion owned by a man suspected by the government of being a Chinese intelligence agent.

Since the arrest, Ng has been confined in a luxury apartment guarded by private security. Closing arguments are scheduled to continue on Wednesday.

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