NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York fashion designer who calls himself the “curator of cool” pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to charges stemming from a U.S. bribery case that has ensnared relatives of former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Malcolm Harris, a self-described arts and fashion consultant and blogger, entered his plea in Manhattan federal court to charges that include wire fraud and aggravated identity theft after being arrested last week in Mexico.
During a brief court appearance, Harris, dressed in a brown shirt and military-style camouflage pants, was ordered held without bail by a federal magistrate judge. His lawyer declined to comment.
Harris is one of four defendants who have been charged in connection with a case that has complicated Ban’s expected run for president of South Korea after he recently completed his term at the United Nations.
The defendants include Joo Hyun Bahn, a real estate broker who is Ban Ki-moon’s nephew, and his father Ban Ki-sang, Ban Ki-moon’s brother who was an executive at South Korean construction firm Keangnam Enterprises Co Ltd.
According to the indictment, amid a liquidity crisis at Keangnam, Ban Ki-sang arranged for the company to hire his son to broker a refinancing on the Landmark 72 building complex in Hanoi, which cost over $1 billion to construct.
In March 2013, Bahn through an acquaintance met Harris, who has called himself “curator of cool,” has counted Madonna among his famous friends, and, according to the celebrity TV show Access Hollywood, has sold dresses to Angelina Jolie.
Prosecutors said Harris told Bahn he could help get a deal via his connections, which he said included members of a Middle Eastern royal family, and offered to arrange the Landmark 72’s sale to a sovereign wealth fund by bribing an official.
In April 2014, Bahn and Ban Ki-sang agreed to pay an upfront $500,000 bribe and another $2 million upon the sale’s closing to the official, prosecutors said.
But prosecutors said Harris did not have any connection to the official, and after the men sent $500,000 to his company, Muse Creative Consulting LLC, to pay bribes as a middle man, he stole the funds.
He spent the money on airfare, hotels, lavish meals, furniture, rent for a Manhattan apartment and a six-month lease for a penthouse in the fashionable Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, the indictment said.
Bahn, 38, has pleaded not guilty. Ban Ki sang, 69, lives in Seoul and remains at large.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tom Brown