NEW YORK (Reuters) - Ng Lap Seng’s dream of “fame and more fortune” drove the Macau billionaire to bribe United Nations officials to win support for a multibillion-dollar conference center he hoped to build, a U.S. prosecutor said on Tuesday near the end of Ng’s criminal trial.
In her closing argument in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg said Ng bypassed the rules of international diplomacy to try to construct the “Geneva of Asia,” and “cement his legacy.”
But a lawyer for Ng, Tai Park, accused prosecutors of spinning a “spider web of inferences and suppositions” to transform activity the defendant was asked to do by diplomats into crimes. “It is frankly outrageous,” he said.
Ng, 69, has pleaded not guilty to bribery and money laundering charges.
Prosecutors said he hoped the Macau center would regularly host events for developing countries as well as fuel the expansion of his real estate empire through the nearby construction of luxury housing, hotels, a shopping mall, marinas and a heliport.
Ng is accused of paying more than $1 million of bribes to Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the U.N., and the late John Ashe, a former U.N. General Assembly president, during a five-year scheme.
“The defendant cheated,” Echenberg said. “Having the United Nations be a central part of this project would bring tens of thousands of people to Macau, and the defendant himself could take credit for making Macau, as he called it, the ‘Geneva of Asia.'”
Park countered that Ng wanted to work with the U.N. through public-private partnerships, but was victimized by greedy diplomats.
“There is nothing wrong with what he did,” Park said. “You had a public-private partnership where the U.N. said, ‘Please send us money.'”
Closing arguments were expected to resume on Wednesday. The trial began on June 29.
Lorenzo pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering and was the government’s main witness against Ng, testifying for more than a week under a cooperation agreement.
Echenberg told jurors the case was not about whether Lorenzo was “a good person,” but rather whether Ng bribed him.
Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, was also charged, but died accidentally at home in June 2016 after dropping a barbell on his neck.
Ng, who has sat on the Chinese government’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, has been free on $50 million bail and allowed to live under 24-hour guard in a luxury Manhattan apartment.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Phil Berlowitz, G Crosse