U.S. disputes political motive for prosecuting Macau billionaire

September 1, 2016 4:31 PM EDT

Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng, accused of bribing former United Nations General Assembly president John Ashe, exits U.S Federal Court in New York, New York U.S., June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/

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By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have dismissed as "inflammatory nonsense" a Macau billionaire's claims that he is being prosecuted in connection with a U.N. bribery scheme for geopolitical reasons to slow China's influence over developing nations.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan filed papers late on Wednesday rejecting as "fantastic" claims by real estate developer Ng Lap Seng's lawyers that his case was politically motivated.

"The sole cause of the defendant's prosecution was a real conspiracy, not an invented one," prosecutors wrote.

Ng's lawyer declined comment.

Ng, 68, was charged last year for engaging in a bribery scheme with John Ashe, a former United Nations ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who was U.N. General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014.

Prosecutors said Ng gave Ashe over $500,000 in bribes to, among other things, seek U.N. support for a conference center in the Chinese territory of Macau, which Ng's company, Sun Kian Ip Group, would develop.

Ashe died in June awaiting trial. Ng has pleaded not guilty.

In court papers, Ng's lawyers accuse the government of trying to silence Ng's advocacy for the conference center, which would have given developing nations a permanent meeting venue in China, in order to slow China's influence over those nations.

In arguing the prosecution was not about bribery, they pointed to questions Federal Bureau of Investigation agents posed to Ng after his September 2015 arrest about whether an associate, Qin Fei, was involved with foreign intelligence.

Prosecutors on Wednesday argued agents had reason to focus on Qin, who Ng called a consultant for Sun Kian, to determine what if any relationship he had to Ng's company, the conference center and money Ng wired to the United States.

The Manhattan prosecutors' motion came hours after federal prosecutors across the East River in Brooklyn charged an ex-Air China employee linked to Qin and Ng for smuggling packages onto flights on behalf of Chinese military personnel.

An indictment also accused Ying Lin, the former Air China employee, of helping a Chinese national the FBI was investigating flee the country in October 2015.

Prosecutors did not name the Chinese national, but his description matches that of Qin, who owns a $10 million Long Island mansion that Lin is listed as agent for on property records. Ng has said he paid for renovations at Qin's mansion.

Neither Deborah Colson, Lin's lawyer, nor Abbe Lowell, who has represented Qin, responded to requests for comment.

(This story has been refiled to correct name in last paragraph to Lin instead of Yin.)

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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