Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng was sentenced to 4 years in prison on Friday in Manhattan federal court for bribing UN officials to support a lavish conference center for third-world development planning that he wanted to develop in his native Macau.
Ng, 69, was convicted by a jury last year of paying off the late former UN General Assembly president John Ashe and Dominican Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, who became a government witness, to support the UN project that he hoped would make Macau a “Geneva of Asia.”
“There’s no question there’s been damage to the United Nations,” U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick told Ng. “It rigged the system in such a way that it didn’t allow for legitimate debate of the pros and cons of having a conference center.”
The real estate magnate’s lawyers wanted Broderick to sentence him to time served so he could return to China and his family, arguing that his goals were philanthropic and the case had already served its function of deterring UN corruption.
“I want to apologize to the court for all the trouble my actions have caused,” said Ng, his hands shaking as he read a statement to the judge through a translator. “I really believed that it would do great things for Macau and South-South [developing] nations.”
He also said he was worried about the effect a long prison term would have on his business and his family. “Your honor, I ask for your mercy for myself, but more important for them,” he said.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a 20-year sentence. Prosecutors urged Broderick to imprison Ng for at least 6 years, arguing that he was interested in profits, not philanthropy, and whatever good the case did in spurring UN reform would be lost if Ng got a slap on the wrist.
“A time-served sentence would be a terrible message to send here,” prosecutor Janis Echenberg told the judge. “People are watching. General deterrence is critical here.”
Until now, Ng has not spent a day in jail. After his 2015 arrest, he was allowed to hire a private security firm to guard him round-the-clock in his own apartment. Broderick said he could remain in the apartment until reporting to prison in July but refused to postpone imprisonment while Ng pursues an appeal.
Ng was ordered to forfeit $1.5 million, and pay restitution of $302,000 in addition to the 4-year prison term.