MANHATTAN (CN) — Facing the possibility of decades in a U.S. prison for corrupting the United Nations, Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng has a lot to be stressed about. Per a federal judge’s ruling Monday, however, Ng’s personal masseuse and $4 million apartment will remain on hand for him to sweat out those troubles.
Refusing to remand Ng into custody this morning, U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick added a restriction to house arrest more fitting of a lusty teenager than an international billionaire: When Ng meets with his masseuse in his 3,100-square-foot apartment, the bedroom door has to stay open.
Monday’s hearing came just over a week after a federal jury here convicted the real estate tycoon of bribing two powerful ambassadors to try to build a United Nations conference center in Macau.
Noting that United States does not have an extradition treaty with China,
federal prosecutors balked at Broderick’s order, arguing that Ng has every incentive to flee.
The issue of fugitive defendants is familiar territory for Broderick. Two years ago, the judge was forced to revoke bail after Paul Ceglia fled charges that he tried to defraud Mark Zuckerberg out of half of Facebook’s fortune.
Ceglia remains at large, and Broderick acknowledged Monday that Ng would be similarly elusive. “If he makes it to China,” the judge said, “it’s 100 percent that he’s never coming back.”
Ng’s attorneys insisted that their client will not be able to flee, even if he tried.
“It’s a private jail,” Kirkland & Ellis attorney Andrew Genser said at the hearing. “He’s not getting out of there.”
Under 24-hour surveillance by a private-security firm, Ng has all of his visitors screened by two armed guards. Their supervisor, Brendan Finn, testified today that they granted him privacy with the masseuse who caters to Ng every other day for between four and 10 hours at a time.
The length of the sessions drew alarm from Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richtenthal. “We assume more is going on than a simple massage,” Richtenthal said.
“The masseuse also cooks,” Finn explained, adding that she was “very reputable.”
Finn’s company, Guidepost, is headquartered in New York, with offices in about a dozen cities across the globe. He said the loss of a criminal defendant as high profile as Ng would be devastating for the firm’s reputation.
“If he flees, the job is over, and more than that, we look bad,” he said.
Richtenthal meanwhile poked holes in Guidepost’s security regime, insisting that an escape plot would elude the guards even if they heard it since they do not speak Chinese.
Questioning what the guards called a “reasonable” search of visitors, Richtenthal said the firm regularly argues for the release of defendants who can generate business.
“That doesn’t make them bad people,” the prosecutor said. “It just means they respond to incentive.”
Addressing the government’s concerns in turn, Broderick called for an interpreter to be available for the guards during waking hours. He also ordered them to make more frequent use of their magnetometers and to stop eating the food cooked by Ng’s masseuse.
“I think you guys need to get your food elsewhere,” Broderick said.
Though Broderick refused to extend Ng’s visitation privileges beyond family, he made exceptions for Ng’s masseuse and godchildren who are not blood related.
Richtenthal blasted the leniency as “unprecedented,” pointed to increasing judicial pushback against the trend of rich criminal defendants financing their house arrests — a phenomenon that The New York Times described as “gilded cage” bail packages.
U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, a colleague of Broderick’s in the Southern District of New York, rejected one such deal last year.
In denying bail to Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, who remains behind bars while facing charges of laundering money to the Iranian government, Berman said these arrangements “foster inequity and unequal treatment” to the extremely wealthy.
The phenomenon has also fueled public outrage: After the hearing, Broderick told the court reporter to go off the record, and told prosecutors that he received an angry letter to his chambers on this issue.
His chambers refused to release the letter, which an assistant said was not a public record.
For now, Ng’s house arrest will continue indefinitely, as his sentencing date has not been set.
In the wake of Ng’s prosecution, his plans for a permanent UN conference center in China to rival the ones in New York and Geneva crumbled.