Chinese Billionaire Developer Gets Four Years for UN Bribery

(Bloomberg) -- A Chinese developer convicted of paying bribes to win backing for his plans to build a United Nations conference center 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 program in the early 2000s. Prosecutors claimed Ng funneled 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 U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick 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 $1 million fine, to forfeit $1.5 million and to pay the UN $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.

Ng, who speaks Cantonese, listened to a translation of Broderick’s comments through headphones. More than two dozen family members and friends attended the sentencing in Manhattan federal court. Some of them had traveled from China and sat in the gallery with headphones, listening to the translation.

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 center, 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 center 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, with four bedrooms and 3 1/2 baths, a cook and masseuse, since shortly after his arrest. He told probation officials that his living expenses in New York are about $20,000 a month.

"He’s frankly living a lavish lifestyle," Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg told Broderick.

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.

The case is U.S. v. Ashe, 15-cr-00706, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.