China billionaire developer gets 4 years for UN bribery

Prosecutors claim Ng funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ashe and other UN officials


MANHATTAN • A Chinese developer convicted of paying bribes to win backing for his plans to build a United Nations (UN) conference centre in Macau was sentenced to four years in prison.

Billionaire Ng Lap Seng, 69, was convicted in July of conspiracy, bribery and money laundering, in the biggest UN corruption scandal since the oil-for-food programme in the early 2000s.

Prosecutors claimed Ng funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars to former UN General Assembly president John Ashe and other officials.

“I’m very sorry for any suffering I’ve caused my family, my friends and my employees,” Ng told US District Judge Vernon Broderick last Friday, reading from a prepared statement, his hands shaking. “I promise, I will never repeat my mistakes.”

Broderick rejected Ng’s request that he be sentenced only to the 30 days he’s already spent in jail. He ordered Ng to pay a US$1 million (RM3.95 million) fine, to forfeit US$1.5 million and to pay the UN US$303,000 in restitution.

“It is important to send a message, to the people at the UN itself and to other institutions in this country, that perverting the decision-making or attempting to pervert the decision-making through bribes will not be tolerated,” Broderick said.

Francis Lorenzo, a UN diplomat who pleaded guilty and cooperated with prosecutors in hopes of a lenient sentence, told jurors in Ng’s trial that Ng had wanted to build a permanent home for an annual UN conference on economic cooperation among developing countries.

Prosecutors said Ng’s plan was to build the centre, to be located on a man-made island off the coast of Macau, for free to boost the value of a related complex that included apartments, offices, high-end shopping, a casino and a luxury hotel, which he also intended to develop. Ng and others involved were arrested before the centre was built.

The government sought at least six years in prison for Ng. Ng’s lawyers, citing his poor health and the millions of dollars he’d donated to charity, asked that he be allowed to return to China without serving any time.

Ng has been confined to his multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartment since shortly after his arrest. He told probation officials that his living expenses in New York are about US$20,000 a month.

“He’s frankly living a lavish lifestyle,” Assistant US Attorney Janis Echenberg told Broderick last Friday.

Six people were charged in the case, including Ashe, who died in a weightlifting accident in 2016. In addition to serving as president of the general assembly, Ashe was the ambassador to the UN from Antigua and Barbuda. All others pleaded guilty.