Chinese Billionaire Convicted in U.N. Bribery Scandal

In this Oct. 26, 2015, file photo, Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, center, leaves federal court with his attorney Benjamin Brafman, right, after he was released on bail in connection with a United Nations bribery scheme in New York. Ng’s federal bribery kicked off on June 29 in the New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

MANHATTAN (CN) — Less than a day into deliberations, a New York jury on Thursday threw the book at a Chinese billionaire convicted of bribing two powerful ambassadors to advance his vision of United Nations conference center in Macau.

Interrupting some seven hours of internal debate on Thursday afternoon, the jurors filed into the Thurgood Marshall Courthouse’s ceremonial courtroom just five miles south of U.N. headquarters in Manhattan.

The panel of nine men and three women said little before the foreman pronounced six guilty counts against real estate mogul Ng Lap Seng, including charges of bribery, conspiracy, money laundering and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Already owning a prodigious portfolio including 130 affiliated companies, the jury found that Ng corruptly sought to add a crown jewel development: a U.N. conference center for developing nations to meet every year in Macau, a vision that he believed would be for Asia what Geneva had been for Europe.

The building would host the annual South-South Expo, where countries that identify as a global south — the preferred nomenclature for what was once called third-world nations — would discuss topics of shared concerned concern like climate change, water access and food security.

While Ng’s attorneys cast the venture as philanthropic, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim described it as driven by greed.

“In his unbridled pursuit of even greater personal fortune, billionaire Ng Lap Seng corrupted the highest levels of the United Nations,” he said in a statement. “Through bribes and no show jobs, Ng turned leaders of the league of nations into his private band of profiteers.”

The U.N. bribery scandal unfolded among a string of prosecutions brought by Kim’s predecessor Preet Bharara, who was fired this year in a purge of U.S. attorneys by President Donald Trump.

With some high-profile corruption cases pending, including the case of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s former “right-hand man” Joseph Percoco, Kim warned that the crackdown that began under his predecessor’s watch would continue.

“Ng’s journey from a Macau real estate mogul to convicted felon should serve as a cautionary tale to all tempted to follow his path,” he 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 in a Manhattan federal courtroom, with a unanimous jury announcing your guilt.”

The reference to the U.N. General Assembly calls to mind Ng’s late accused co-conspirator John Ashe, an Antiguan who served as president of that body before he died in a weight-lifting accident before trial.

Ashe would never take the stand, but another diplomat — Francis Lorenzo, from the Dominican Republic — would ultimate serve as the key government witness in marathon testimony that stretched longer than a week.

Lorenzo testified that Ng paid him $25,000 per month — later raised to $60,000 per month — to serve as president of South-South News, a digital news platform for the developing world that prosecutors depicted as simply a front for Ng.

Though he lost his job amid criminal prosecution, Lorenzo acted at the time as the deputy permanent representative for the United Nations to the Dominican Republic, and , and he pleaded guilty to tax evasion before trial.

Before and during his trial, Ng has been under house arrest, and he will remain under a tight watch outside of prison for the near future.

“He is not to leave the apartment, no ifs, ands, or buts,” U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick warned.

Warning of a flight risk, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal called for Ng to face immediate remand to prison, but Broderick postponed that decision until oral arguments on Aug. 7.

Ng’s attorney Tai Park, a partner at the Wall Street firm Park Jensen Bennett, told the judge that he would appeal the verdict, though he declined comment to the press.

Ng, 69, faces a maximum of 65 years in prison when he is sentenced. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

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