June 23, 2017 / 8:32 PM / 2 years ago

Macau billionaire on trial in U.S. in U.N. corruption case

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A billionaire real estate developer from Macau will go to trial Monday in Manhattan on charges he bribed senior United Nations officials to support a multibillion-dollar conference center he hoped to build.

FILE PHOTO - Macau billionaire real estate developer Ng Lap Seng (R), accused of bribing former United Nations General Assembly president John Ashe, exits the Manhattan U.S. District Courthouse in New York, U.S. April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ashlee Espinal

Ng Lap Seng, 69, has pleaded not guilty to charges he paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

The Chinese national, who was once linked to a Democratic fundraising scandal when Bill Clinton was U.S. president, is one of at least seven people charged since 2015 in the U.N.-related federal corruption probe.

Jury selection is set to begin before U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick in Manhattan. A trial could last several weeks.

Prosecutors said Ng paid more than $500,000 in bribes to John Ashe, a former U.N. General Assembly president and ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, and bribed Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic.

In exchange, Ng hoped the diplomats would provide U.N. support to help the Sun Kian Ip Group founder build the conference center, prosecutors said. The center was never built.

Ashe was also criminally charged, but died at home last June after dropping a barbell on his neck. Lorenzo has pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Three other defendants have also pleaded guilty.

Defense lawyers have argued that Ng’s prosecution was politically motivated, to help the U.S. government check China’s influence over developing countries that might have used the conference center as a permanent meeting venue.

Ng’s businesses also include apparel and casinos, and he has sat on the Chinese government’s Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

In 1998, a U.S. Senate report said he had from 1994 to 1996 funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars through an Arkansas restaurateur to the Democratic National Committee as it worked to re-elect Clinton, who knew the restaurateur.

Ng was not charged in the matter, known as “Chinagate,” and Broderick has said prosecutors may not discuss it at trial.

Ng was arrested in September 2015. He was freed the next month on $50 million bail, and permitted to live under 24-hour guard in a luxury apartment in Midtown Manhattan.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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