‘US charges against me are political’, Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng says after arrest in UN bribery scandal
Macau real estate mogul accuses US government of prosecuting him for geopolitical reasons to slow the progress of Chinese influence over developing nations
Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, who was arrested in a UN bribery scandal last year, has said charges against him are politically motivated.
His arrest was a way for the United States to block the a major UN conference centre being built in Macau and slow the progress of Chinese influence over developing nations, Ng’s lawyers wrote in papers filed at a New York federal court on Thursday.
They argued the case was meant to silence Ng’s advocacy for the project, which would have given poor nations a permanent meeting venue in China.
“There is every reason to believe the UN has, indeed, completely shelved the idea of such a centre,” Ng’s lawyers wrote, according to Associated Press. “The US geopolitical interest in slowing the progress of Chinese influence over developing nations has been achieved.”
The Chinese property developer, who has pleaded not guilty, was arrested in September in New York and later charged with bribery and money laundering. He has been under house arrest since October.
His assistant, Jeff Yin, was also charged.
Ng is under investigation for allegedly bribing a top UN official who unexpectedly died in June. Prosecutors said Ng paid US$500,000 in bribes to John Ashe, a former president of the UN General Assembly, to receive support for the conference centre, which his company Sun Kian Ip Group would develop.
“As we have maintained from inception, the government’s theory is seriously flawed and Ng has absolutely no reason nor motive to bribe Ashe in connection with the Permanent Expo Project in Macau,” Hugh H. Mo, Ng’s lead counsel, told the South China Morning Post in June.
Ng’s lawyers repeated this week that charges brought against the 68-year-old businessman were based on a “fundamentally unsound” and unprecedented criminal prosecution.
Ng is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and also a member of the election committee that selects Macau’s chief executive.
In the 1990s, the real estate mogul was linked to a scandal surrounding Asian funding for then US president Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party. According to news reports, he visited the White House several times and was photographed in the company of American political figures including Clinton and his wife Hillary, who is now the party’s candidate for the US presidency.
This week, Ng’s lawyers submitted a transcript of an interview the FBI conducted with Ng after his arrest. They noted that the questions were mostly focused on identifying an individual whom Ng called his partner and determining whether that person was a Chinese agent.
“All these circumstances strongly suggest that the prosecution of Ng is not, and never was, about policing the integrity of UN operations,” Ng’s lawyers wrote, according to Reuters.
Ng was also asked about a photograph on the internet of him with US President Barack Obama.
According to the transcript, reported by Associated Press, Ng said he was introduced to Obama by a friend from Taiwan.
“A friend said, ‘You want to speak to the US president?’” Ng said through an interpreter. “I said, ‘Yeah, of course, first black president.’”
Three out of the six suspects in the case have pleaded guilty. Ng’s trial is scheduled for January next year.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press