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Macau billionaire charged with lying about cash he brought to the U.S., federal prosecutors charge

A billionaire from Macau once linked to Clinton-era campaign finance scandals has been arrested and charged in federal court in Manhattan with lying about $4.5 million in cash he brought into the United States in a complaint made public late Monday.

Ng Lap Seng, 68, and interpreter Jeff Yin, 29, are accused of bringing six-figure chunks of money into the country 11 times since 2013, declaring it and telling border agents it was for art, real estate, gambling or antiques -- but actually using it for a different, still-secret purpose.

Prosecutors said at a weekend bail hearing, according to a transcript, that Yin admitted after his arrest "that among other things that cash was sent to people to engage in unlawful activities."

Real estate magnate Ng, linked to Chinese businessman Charlie Trie's effort to funnel foreign money to Democrats for the 1996 election, was held without bail Saturday after the government told a judge his enormous wealth made him too much of a flight risk.

Prosecutor Janis Echenberg said Ng was worth more than $1.8 billion, made $25 million a month, had private planes worth $30 million, had wired $20 million into the U.S. since 2010, and when arrested had 20 credit cards, three phones, $30,000 in Hong Kong currency and a gold and diamond encrusted watch worth $200,000.

She also told Magistrate Sarah Netburn that Ng had previously dodged a grand jury subpoena in a different case, and had absented himself from the United States for five years after his name surfaced in the probe that led to Trie's conviction on campaign finance charges.

"We think this is indicative of his unlikeliness to return if he is released," Echenberg said.

Kevin Tung, a Queens lawyer representing Seng, told the judge Seng had a $3.2 million Manhattan apartment he could post to secure his return, as well as a reasonable amount of cash and would agree to electronic monitoring.

"People being rich, that doesn't mean he is a criminal," he told the judge. In an interview, Tung said Ng should be presumed innocent, noting that he declared all his cash when he entered the United States and might have just changed his mind after telling agents his plans.

Yin, the translator, had a $1 million bond set with $250,000 in cash required, and is also still in custody. Both men were arrested Saturday, after a short stay in New York that prosecutors said included a visit to an unnamed business associate on Long Island.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5.

According to the complaint, Ng and Yin have been coming to the United States multiple times a year since 2007, often by private plane, for short stays -- from a couple days to a week, and on the trips since 2013 has declared amounts from $200,000 to $900,000.

The government said that on one trip in 2014, Ng said he was going to be gambling in Las Vegas, but when asked how he would be able to do that during a three-day stay, he changed his story and said he was going to buy art.

He was unable to name who he was buying it from, the government said, and surveillance during the trip indicated he did not meet with any art or antique dealers, but was accompanied by a man identified as "Individual 1," who had originally told investigators that he worked for the airline Ng flew on.

On his way out, the government said, Ng did not file a declaration saying he was taking out any of the money he had brought in.

On his latest trip, Ng declared $500,000 when he landed in Anchorage, Alaska, and told agents he intended to spend it on real estate in New York, the criminal complaint said.

But he toured no properties once he arrived, the government said, instead staying at a house on Long Island owned by an unnamed "Business Associate 2" -- identified as an "extraordinarily wealthy connected Chinese businessman" who travels regularly with Ng -- and later at the Waldorf in Manhattan.

The lead prosecutor on the case is a member of the public corruption unit in the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office.

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