NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court on Friday rejected billionaire Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng’s request to throw out his conviction and four-year prison sentence for bribing two U.N. ambassadors to help him build a multibillion-dollar conference center.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said federal bribery laws covered Ng’s suspect payments, despite his contention that they excluded public entities such as the United Nations.
It also said the trial judge erred in instructing jurors that prosecutors needed to show that Ng intended to influence an “official act,” but the error was harmless because the burden of proof was actually lower, and a properly instructed jury would “certainly” have found Ng guilty.
Paul Clement, a lawyer handling Ng’s appeal, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in Manhattan declined to comment.
Ng, 71, had been convicted in July 2017 on all six counts he faced, including bribery, money laundering and corruption, after a four-week trial.
Prosecutors accused Ng of paying more than $1 million in bribes to John Ashe, a former U.N. General Assembly president and ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, and Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy ambassador from the Dominican Republic.
Ng allegedly did this to win support for his conference center, including its hosting of an annual gala to support developing countries, and use it as a springboard for the development of luxury housing, hotels, marinas and a heliport to transform Macau into the “Geneva of Asia” and make him richer.
The center was not built.
Lorenzo pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering, and testified against Ng at his trial after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors. His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 12.
Ashe was also criminally charged, but died accidentally at home in June 2016 after dropping a barbell on his neck.
Ng is imprisoned in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, and eligible for release in January 2022, according to federal records.
The case is U.S. v. Ng, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-1725.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis