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Politics

U.S. prosecutors allege Ng paid bribes until arrest

John W. Ashe (far left), Francis Lorenzo (second from left) and Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit (second from right) at the U.N. forum in Macau in August

HONG KONG -- The criminal indictment filed by U.S. prosecutors against Macau developer David Ng Lap-seng charges him with bribery and money laundering through 2014, but a review of court filings indicates that investigators believe Ng's alleged corrupt activities continued until the eve of his arrest in New York two months ago.

     Ng is charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to former United Nations diplomat John W. Ashe, primarily to get him to push for the construction of a "multibillion dollar" U.N. expo center in Macau for the benefit of Ng's Sun Kian Ip Group. Ng and Ashe have pleaded not guilty to all charges and been released on bail.

     Statements and briefs filed by the prosecutors indicate Ng's financial activities in the U.S. surged this year in the weeks before and after an Aug. 25-26 U.N. conference in Macau at which some 200 delegates endorsed the construction of a "South-South Expo" center in the city.

     Ashe played a prominent role at the Macau meeting both as chairman of the U.N. South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development and as co-chairman of Ng's Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation, which sponsored the event. Until last year, Ashe served as the U.N. ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda and as president of the U.N. General Assembly for a year's term that ended in September 2014.

     Francis Lorenzo, who has been charged with acting as a middleman for Ng's alleged bribes, played a similar range of roles at the Macau meeting. He was there as executive president of the South-South steering committee and the International Organization for South-South Cooperation, president of the Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation and deputy U.N. ambassador for the Dominican Republic. Around 20 U.N. ambassadors attended the meeting.

     The Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation donated $1.5 million to the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation to help finance the Macau meeting and another one held in Dhaka in May; the foundation earlier this year offered the U.N. office a further $13.5 million but U.N. officials have said that will not be accepted as the organization has launched multiple reviews of its ties to the foundation following the arrests of Ng and Ashe.

     Ng was arrested as he was preparing to fly on one of his private jets from New York back to Macau on Sept. 19 and was initially charged only with misleading U.S. customs officials about the purposes for which he had brought in some $4.5 million in cash since January 2013. The case was dropped when he was charged with bribery on Oct. 6.

     According to a log submitted in the cash declaration case, Ng carried amounts varying between $200,000 and $390,000 on nine trips into the U.S. between July 2013 and December 2014. Last July 5, however, he arrived carrying $900,000. Upon landing in Anchorage, Alaska, he told customs officials the money was for gambling in Las Vegas "to win back $2 million he had previously lost."

     According to the complaint, Ng did proceed to Las Vegas for one night, but nearly all his betting there was funded by a new $386,000 international wire transfer rather than from cash. After traveling on to New York and meeting with Lorenzo and another unnamed "business associate," Ng flew out of the U.S. on July 11.

     On Sept. 16, Ng landed again in Anchorage with $500,000 in cash, which he said was for buying property in New York. According to the transcript of an Oct. 22 bail hearing, he met with both Ashe and Lorenzo on Sept. 18 and signed new agreements with them to pay each $20,000 a month. The same day, Lorenzo, acting for Ng, bought a $4 million apartment near the U.N. headquarters in New York.

     Prosecutor Daniel Richenthal told the court that later that same evening, Ng traveled by limousine to Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut where he "gambled to 4 a.m. and spent a couple hundred thousand dollars."

     All told, prosecutors said Ng, a part-owner of the Fortuna casino hotel in Macau, wired more than $19 million into the U.S. over the past five years. 

     Of all the funds Ng brought into the U.S. in cash and wire transfers, "we recovered approximately $430,000," Richenthal told the court. "Where is [the rest of] that money? Our best guess, it's with co-conspirators who are still here."

     "Mr. Ng has literally more money than one can fathom and it's liquid and available to him in wire form and cash form," Richenthal said. "We know he's worth more than $1 billion."

     The prosecutors failed to convince the court to deny bail to Ng, but this month returned to court again to argue against allowing Ng's family members, who had co-signed for his $50 million bail bond, to fly back to Asia without restriction. Daughter-in-law Yuan Sun works for Sun Kian Ip Group and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara argued she should not be allowed to return to its Macau office during a trip to see her ailing son and mother.

     The company "funded a non-governmental organization through which it paid at least hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, hosted those to whom it paid bribes, and sponsored a related foundation through which it paid additional bribes and agreed to pay further bribes, as recently as the day before the defendant's arrest," Bharara wrote to the court.

     Benjamin Brafman, Ng's lawyer, argued that Sun's "role in the company has nothing to do with the proposed United Nations convention center that is at the heart of this case." However, Judge Vernon S. Broderick agreed Nov. 6 to Bharara's request to bar Sun from working while in Macau.

     Separately, Campaign for Accountability, a U.S. group which tracks corporate and government misconduct, has filed a complaint to the U.S. Federal Election Commission asking for an investigation of Ng together with Sheldon Adelson, the chairman and chief executive of U.S. gaming company Las Vegas Sands, which operates several casino resorts in Macau.

     The complaint noted Ng's arrest, improper contributions to the U.S. Democratic National Committee during the presidency of Bill Clinton and alleged ties to organized crime as well as Adelson's hefty contributions in recent years to Republican presidential campaigns. The group alleged that Adelson, with Ng's help, "had financed many of his campaign contributions with foreign money," contrary to U.S. election rules, but did not detail Ng's alleged role.

     The group filed a parallel request to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland and Governmental Affairs requesting an investigation into alleged relations between Las Vegas Sands, other U.S. casino operators and Asian organized crime figures, again labeling Ng as one.

     Testifying in a court case in Nevada in May, Adelson denied having had dealings with Ng.

     In further repercussions from Ng's indictment, Lennox Linton, the leader of the opposition in Dominica, has called for Roosevelt Skerrit, prime minister of the Caribbean island nation, to resign over his dealings with Ng. Skerrit was the only national leader to attend the U.N. conference in Macau in August.

     While there, he signed an agreement with the Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation and the U.N. South-South Cooperation Office for what was called "a South-South Technology Transfer Facility". Linton's Oct. 30 open letter demanded the disclosure of the terms of the agreement. Local media have quoted a lawyer for Skerrit saying he is preparing to launch a defamation suit against Linton.

     Ng was made an honorary citizen of Dominica in 2002 after pledging to invest $22.5 million toward the building of a casino hotel. The project was never completed.

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