U.S. says fame, fortune drove Macau billionaire's bribery

This post was originally published on this site

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Ng Lap Seng’s dream of “fame and more fortune” drove the Macau billionaire to bribe United Nations officials to win support for a multi-billion dollar conference center he hoped to build, a U.S. prosecutor said on Tuesday near the end of Ng’s criminal trial.

In her closing argument in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg said Ng bypassed the rules of international diplomacy to build the center and “cement his legacy.”

Ng, 69, has pleaded not guilty to bribery and money laundering charges.

Prosecutors said he hoped the Macau center would regularly host events for developing countries, and pave the way for the nearby construction of luxury housing, hotels, a shopping mall, several marinas and a heliport.

Ng’s alleged scheme stretched over five years, and included bribes to Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic, and the late John Ashe, a former U.N. General Assembly president, prosecutors said.

“The defendant cheated,” Echenberg said. “Having the United Nations be a central part of this project would bring tens of thousands of people to Macau, and the defendant himself could take credit for making Macau, as he called it, the ‘Geneva of Asia.'”

A lawyer for Ng is expected to begin his closing argument later on Tuesday.

Ng’s lawyers have said their client did not pay bribes, acted with philanthropic goals in mind, and was a victim of shady activity by diplomats.

The trial began on June 29.

Lorenzo had pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering charges, and spent more than a week on the witness stand as part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors.

Echenberg told jurors the case was not about whether Lorenzo was “a good person,” but rather whether Ng paid him “to get official action from the United Nations.”

Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, had also been charged, but died accidentally at home in June 2016 after dropping a barbell on his neck.

Ng has sat on the Chinese government’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Two decades ago, he was implicated but not charged in a fundraising scandal involving U.S. President Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election bid.

Ng has been free on $50 million bail, and allowed to live under 24-hour guard in a luxury Manhattan apartment.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz