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Macau billionaire in UN bribery case gets US$50m bail

Ng Lap Seng, a Macau real estate developer, is seen in Hong Kong, in this 2008 file photo.

[NEW YORK] A billionaire real estate developer from Macau accused by US authorities of bribing a former United Nations General Assembly president on Friday won the right to be released on US$50 million bail and live under house arrest in a luxury Manhattan apartment.

Ng Lap Seng, 68, had been in US custody since his arrest on Sept 19, after a federal judge previously determined his financial resources made the Chinese national too much of a flight risk.

But over the objections of a federal prosecutor, US Magistrate Judge Kevin Fox in Manhattan accepted a proposal by Mr Ng's attorneys to allow him to live under house arrest at a US$3.6 million apartment under 24-hour watch by two private security guards.

The US$50 million bail must be secured by US$20 million cash and the apartment, Mr Fox said, adding Mr Ng must also wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and bear the guards' US$200-an-hour cost.

Daniel Richenthal, the prosecutor, said the US government may appeal. He argued it was "not appropriate for wealthy defendants to buy their freedom." Benjamin Brafman, Mr Ng's lawyer, countered that arrangements for home detention with security guards had been seen before, including with convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff. "Rich people should not be put in jail just because they are rich," he said.

Mr Fox also on Friday set bail at US$500,000 for another defendant in the case, Sheri Yan, who was Global Sustainability Foundation's chief executive officer, and ordered house arrest.

Mr Ng was arrested Sept 19 with his assistant, Jeff Yin, for allegedly making false statements to customs officials as to why they brought US$4.5 million in cash into the United States from China.

They were charged on Oct 6 with four others, including Ms Yan and John Ashe, a former ambassador to the United Nations from Antigua and Barbuda who served as UN General Assembly president from 2013-14, for engaging in a corruption scheme.

Prosecutors said Mr Ashe took over US$1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen including Mr Ng, who has a net worth of US$1.8 billion and US$1 billion in real estate holdings.

Prosecutors said Ng, who heads Sun Kian Ip Group, paid Mr Ashe over US$500,000 through intermediaries to seek the United Nations' support of a UN-sponsored conference center in Macau.

The intermediaries included Francis Lorenzo, a now-suspended deputy UN Ambassador from the Dominican Republic, who prosecutors said Mr Ng also bribed.

Those bribes include the US$3.6 million apartment Mr Ng owns and will reside in, according to Mr Richenthal, who said it was "effectively gifted" to Mr Lorenzo.