After taking more than three days to find jurors, Ng Lap Seng’s trial in federal court in Manhattan, began last Thursday, with the defence attorney claiming payments made by Ng to United Nations (UN) officials to encourage the construction of a conference centre in Macau were an act of ‘philanthropy’, not bribery, regional media reported.
Np Lap Seng, a real estate developer from Macau, has pleaded ‘not guilty’ to six charges, including conspiracy, since he was arrested during a visit to the United States in September 2015, ABC News reported.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind has accused Ng of channelling roughly US$2 million (MOP16.08 million) of ‘suspect payments’ to John Ashe, a former UN General Assembly president and ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, and Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy UN ambassador from the Dominican Republic, according to Reuters.
Prosecutors alleged that Ng hoped his bribes would attract support for the construction of a multibillion-dollar centre to host an annual gala for the UN Office for South-South Cooperation, to be built by Ng’s Sun Kian Ip Group, the same news agency reported.
Tai Park, a lawyer for the real estate developer, said Ng was acting in ‘good faith,’ South China Morning Post (SCMP) described.
Moreover, Park claimed that Ng’s actions were congruent with the ways the UN operates with public-private partnerships, countering that it was actually the organization’s ambassadors who sought Ng’s help to finance the centre and get it built, SCMP and Reuters reported.
Reuters further claims that the trial ‘could focus on China’s dealings with the United Nations, and on defense contentions that Ng’s prosecution is a political ploy by the U.S. government to curb China’s influence over developing countries.’
Bribes or donations?
The suspended deputy UN ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Francis Lorenzo, is expected to be a key witness in Ng’s trial, according to Reuters.
He pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering charges, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Lorenzo is accused of receiving some US$1.5 million over a five-year period to head a Manhattan-based media company for Ng, while serving as a diplomat for the Dominican Republic in the UN, SCMP reported.
Ng’s defence claimed the US$240,000 paid in annual instalments to Lorenzo was remuneration for his services as the company’s president.
John Ashe, who was also charged in the case, was found dead in his apartment in New York in June 2016. Police investigations claimed that he dropped a barbell on his neck while he was exercising.
Ng is accused of paying US$200,000 to Ashe in 2014, while the latter was still sitting as an official in the UN.
Ng’s defence claims the payment was a request from Ashe to support his presidency.
U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick, who is overseeing the case, told prospective jurors that the trial was likely to last four to six weeks.
Ng has been free on a US$50 million bail, and allowed to live in a luxury Manhattan apartment under 24-hour guard.