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Chinese billionaire convicted in United Nations bribery case

Last Updated Jul 27, 2017 at 7:00 pm PDT

Ng Lap Seng leaves federal court in Manhattan, Thursday, July 27, 2017. Hg, a Chinese billionaire who wanted to build a United Nations center in Macau was convicted Thursday of paying over $1.5 million in bribes to U.N. ambassadors to get it done. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – A Chinese billionaire who wanted to build a United Nations centre in Macau was convicted on Thursday of paying more than $1.7 million in bribes to U.N. ambassadors to get it done.

The verdict was returned after a day of deliberations in Manhattan federal court against Ng Lap Seng, one of China’s richest men. Ng was convicted of bribery, conspiracy and money laundering charges.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Ng from 2010 to 2015 bribed two U.N. ambassadors, including a U.N. General Assembly president, paying one $50,000 monthly at the scheme’s peak to create a centre to serve struggling Southern Hemisphere nations.

Defence lawyers contended the payments were ordinary. But the centre was never built.

Ng looked at jurors as the verdict was announced but otherwise did not display emotion.

U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick tightened Ng’s bail conditions, saying he was now “literally under house arrest,” confined under $50 million bail to a luxury Manhattan apartment where he has remained for most months under 24-hour guard since his September 2015 arrest.

“He cannot leave that apartment. No ifs, ands or buts about that,” the judge said.

No sentencing date was set. Ng, 69, could face up to 65 years in prison.

Ng’s lawyer, Tai Park, did not immediately comment. After the verdict, he told the judge there were multiple avenues for appeal.

“Nothing has changed other than the presumption of innocence is no longer there,” Park said. “We’ve been preparing him for this eventuality.”

In a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said Ng “corrupted the highest levels of the United Nations.”

“Through bribes and no-show jobs, Ng turned leaders of the league of nations into his private band of profiteers,” Kim said.

The United Nations said it “co-operated extensively to facilitate the proper administration of justice in this case, by disclosing thousands of documents and waiving the immunity of officials to allow them to testify at trial.”

“The organization is considering next steps as a victim of these crimes,” U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

The verdict was a triumph for prosecutors who navigated thorny legal issues surrounding immunity given to U.N. diplomats before winning the co-operation of suspended Dominican Republic Ambassador Francis Lorenzo, who pleaded guilty to charges and testified against Ng.

Lorenzo said Ng initially paid him $20,000 a month as president of a media organization before boosting that by $30,000 a month with instructions to get Ng’s construction company named on official U.N. documents as the company that would build the Macau centre.

In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg said Ng paid more than $1.7 million in bribes to build a U.N. facility as big as New York’s, to create the “Geneva of Asia.” She said Ng “corrupted the United Nations.”

“Brick by brick, bribe by bribe, the defendant built the path that he thought would build his legacy,” she said.

In closing, Park derided the prosecution as “frankly outrageous.”

“It falls by its own weight,” he said. “It’s a big zero.”

He blamed the ambassadors — former U.N. General Assembly President John Ashe and Lorenzo — for manipulating Ng.

“Mr. Ng literally threw his money in every direction he was asked,” Park said.

Ashe, who was arrested in the case but was not charged with bribery, died last year in an accident at his home.