The chairman of a real estate development company was sentenced today to 48 months in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in a scheme to bribe United Nations ambassadors to obtain support to build a conference center in Macau that would host, among other events, the annual United Nations Global South-South Development Expo.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman of the Southern District of New York, Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. of the FBI’s New York Field Office and Special Agent in Charge James D. Robnett of the IRS Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) New York Field Office made the announcement.
Ng Lap Seng, aka “David Ng,” 69, of Macau, China, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick of the Southern District of New York. In addition to his prison sentence, Judge Broderick ordered Ng to pay a $1 million fine and $302, 977 in restitution to the United Nations. He also ordered a forfeiture money judgment of $1.5 million in forfeiture. Ng must report to the U.S. Marshals Service by July 10 to start his prison sentence. Ng was convicted on July 27, 2017, after a five-week trial of two counts of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, one count of paying bribes and gratuities, one count of money laundering and two counts of conspiracy.
“Corruption at any level of government undermines the rule of law and cannot be tolerated,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan. “But corruption is especially corrosive when it occurs at an international body like the United Nations. By paying bribes to two U.N. ambassadors to advance his interest in obtaining formal support for the Macau conference center project, Ng Lap Seng tried to manipulate the functions of the United Nations. The sentence handed down today demonstrates that those who engage in corruption will pay a heavy price and serves as a reminder that no one stands above the law.”
“Billionaire Ng Lap Seng corrupted the highest levels of the United Nations in pursuit of a multibillion-dollar real estate deal in Macau,” said U.S. Attorney Berman. “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.”
“Gaining the upper hand in a business venture by engaging in corrupt practices is bribery in its purest form. Today, Ng Lap Seng has learned the price he will have to pay for his actions,” said Assistant Director in Charge Sweeney. “I commend the investigators and prosecutors who continue to work together at home and abroad to vigorously enforce the law within the confines of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”
“No matter if money is funneled through New York corporations or transferred offshore, IRS-CI is always ready to follow the money,” said IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Robnett. “Today’s sentencing shows that IRS-CI is committed to rooting out public corruption by investigating individuals who misuse their positions of public trust for personal financial gain.”
According to the evidence presented at trial, Ng, the chairman of the Sun Kian Ip Group, conspired with and paid bribes to Francis Lorenzo, a former UN Ambassador from the Dominican Republic, and John W. Ashe, the late former Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the UN and the 68th President of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). With the assistance of Jeff C. Yin, an accountant and co-conspirator who worked with Ng and others and previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States, Ng orchestrated a scheme with the principal objective of obtaining the formal support of the UN for a multi-billion dollar facility that Ng hoped to build in Macau using the Sun Kian Ip Group (the “Macau Conference Center”). Ng wanted the Macau Conference Center to serve as a location for meetings, discussions, forums, and other events associated with the UN. In particular, he wanted it to serve as the permanent home of the annual “Global South-South Development Expo,” which is run by the UN Office for South-South Cooperation, and is hosted in a different country or city every year.
The trial evidence showed that Ng bribed Ambassador Ashe and Ambassador Lorenzo (together, the “Ambassadors”) in exchange for their agreement to use their official positions to advance Ng’s interest in obtaining formal UN support for the Macau Conference Center. As the evidence demonstrated at trial, Ng paid the Ambassadors in a variety of forms. For example, Ng appointed Ambassador Lorenzo as the President of South-South News, a New York-based organization — funded by Ng — which described itself as a media platform dedicated to advancing the implementation of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, a set of philanthropic goals. Ng provided bribe payments to Ambassador Lorenzo through South-South News by transmitting payments from Macau to a company in the Dominican Republic affiliated with Ambassador Lorenzo’s brother (the “Dominican Company”). Through South-South News, Ng also made payments to Ambassador Ashe, including to Ambassador Ashe’s wife, who was paid in her capacity as a “consultant” to South-South News, and to an account that Ambassador Ashe had established, purportedly to raise money for his role as President of UNGA.
According to the trial evidence, one of the actions that the Ambassadors took in exchange for bribe payments, to advance Ng’s objectives, was to submit an official document to the then-UN Secretary-General in support of the Macau Conference Center (the “UN Document”). The UN Document claimed that there was a need to build the Macau Conference Center to support the UN’s global development goals. Ambassador Ashe, aided by Ambassador Lorenzo, initially submitted the UN Document to the UNGA in or about late February 2012. More than a year later, at Ng’s behest, the Ambassadors revised the UN Document to refer specifically to Ng’s company, the Macau Real Estate Development Company, as a partner in the Macau Conference Center project. The UN Document requested that the Secretary-General circulate the UN Document “as a document of the 66th session of the General Assembly,” under a specific item of the official UNGA agenda. The Secretary-General followed this request, thereby making the UN Document an official part of the UNGA record.
Five other defendants have been charged in this matter. Lorenzo and Heidi Hong Piao pleaded guilty to various charges, including bribery, and are awaiting sentencing. Jeff C. Yin pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and was sentenced to seven months in prison. Shiwei Yan pleaded guilty to bribery and was sentenced to 20 months in prison. Co-defendant Ashe passed away in 2016 and the charges against him were dismissed.
This case was investigated by the FBI and IRS-CI. Assistant Chief David A. Last of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Richenthal, Janis M. Echenberg, and Douglas S. Zolkind of the Southern District of New York are prosecuting the case.