United Nations Bribery Case Gets Macau Billionaire Four-Year Federal Sentence

Posted on: May 14, 2018, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: May 14, 2018, 11:33h.

A billionaire Macau real estate developer — who wanted to bring a multibillion-dollar conference center to the Asian gambling hub — was sentenced to four years in prison by a US court on Friday for bribing two UN diplomats.

Ng Lap Seng
Macau real estate billionaire Ng Lap Seng claimed he was a philanthropist, but the prosecution said he was only interested in lining his already substantial pockets and that he needed to be made an example of. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The Federal District Court in Manhattan also ordered Ng Lap Seng, 69, to pay $2.5 million fines and forfeitures.

Last June, Ng was convicted on one count of bribery, one count of money laundering, and two counts of conspiracy in the most serious UN corruption scandal since the Iraqi oil for food program two decades ago.

The court heard that between 2011 and 2015, Ng paid close to $1.7 million in bribes to the diplomats: the Dominican Republic’s Francis Lorenzo and John W. Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda. The latter served as president of the General Assembly in 2013 and 2014.

‘Geneva of Asia’

Macau’s gaming sector is going through a period of diversification — increasing its non-gaming amenities on offer — and it’s looking to Las Vegas as a guide. Conventions are big business. Las Vegas hosts around 22,000 of the gatherings each year, attracting some 5 million conventioneers, with an economic impact worth billions of dollars.

Ng wanted the diplomats’ backing for his opulent conference center, which he hoped could be used by the UN for mapping out ways to improve Third World countries’ infrastructures et al — as well as other events — that would transform his native Macau into “the Geneva of Asia.” The center would have been built by Ng’s own construction company, the Sun Kian Ip Group.

Ng’s lawyer had asked for his client to be sentenced to time served, painting him as a philanthropist whose goals had been to raise Macau’s profile on the world stage and help the Third World. But prosecutors argued his interests were solely for profits.

“A time-served sentence would be a terrible message to send here,” prosecutor Janis Echenberg told the court. “People are watching. General deterrence is critical here.”

US District Judge Vernon Broderick agreed. “There’s no question there’s been damage to the United Nations,” he told Ng during sentencing. “It rigged the system in such a way that it didn’t allow for legitimate debate of the pros and cons of having a conference center.”

Undiplomatic Corruption

Born into a poor family in Guangdong Province, southern China, Ng moved to Macau in 1979 where he built up a successful fabric-selling business. He invested in property when the market crashed in South China, following the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003, and ten years later, became a billionaire.

“Ng Lap Seng corrupted the highest levels of the United Nations in pursuit of a multibillion-dollar real estate deal in Macau,” said Geoffrey Berman, the interim United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“Ng exploited a center for international diplomacy as an instrument for his greedy intentions. This office is committed to policing official corruption wherever it may be found.”

Ashe died as he awaited sentencing for corruption and money laundering charges in 2016, when a barbell he was lifting dropped on his neck, asphyxiating him. Lorenzo pleaded guilty to the same charges and is awaiting sentencing.