- U.S. says Lorenzo helped Macau billionaire pay bribes
- Magistrate says $2 million bail will ensure Lorenzo won't flee
A Dominican Republic ambassador at the United Nations who prosecutors called a bagman in a wide-ranging bribery scheme can be freed from jail on $2 million bail, a judge ruled.
Francis Lorenzo, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in the Dominican Republic, must surrender his four passports and sign an agreement that he won’t invoke diplomatic immunity to avoid arrest, the judge said.
“This is a serious case, but I don’t think it warrants detention,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman in Manhattan said.
Lorenzo may not be immediately released from jail because he’s unlikely to meet the conditions set by the judge, defense lawyer Brian Bieber said. Lorenzo is innocent, the lawyer said.
Lorenzo, 48, was charged this week with five others, including the UN General Assembly’s former president John Ashe and billionaire Macau developer Ng Lap Seng, on charges that they paid more than $1.3 million in bribes to UN officials to promote the interests of Ng and other Chinese businessmen. Lorenzo acted as a middleman, arranging for at least $500,000 in bribes from Ng to Ashe to promote a UN conference center the developer sought to build in Macau.
Lawyers for Ng and Ashe have said their clients aren’t guilty.
In court Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal outlined a network of non-governmental organizations linked to Ng that allegedly paid Lorenzo bribes of as much as $400,000. He said Lorenzo might flee if released and that several wealthy people who are also suspects might help him.
“He’s been paid by extraordinarily wealthy foreign nationals, not all of whom are in custody,” Richenthal said. “They have every reason to see that this defendant never talks.”
Lorenzo received payments from Ng through the Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation, which Ng controls, and from South-South News, a media organization tied to Ng, the prosecutor said. The two groups couldn’t be reached for comment after regular business hours on Friday. Richenthal said Lorenzo also got cash from other groups the prosecutor didn’t name.
“High-ranking foreign officials” may help Lorenzo obtain additional passports without the U.S. knowing it, prosecutor added.
Bieber told the judge that Lorenzo, a former travel agent, had never been arrested before and wouldn’t flee. Lorenzo became involved in international politics after befriending Leonel Fernandez Reyna, who was later elected president of the Dominican Republic, the lawyer said. Lorenzo was suspended from his job by the Dominican Republic after his arrest this week.
Among those vouching for Lorenzo was Carlos Enrique Garcia Gonzalez, the former permanent representative of El Salvador to the UN, who now works with Lorenzo at South-South News.
“For me, he’s a leader,” Garcia Gonzalez said in court. “He’s promoting the UN’s status in the world.”
The prosecutor said Lorenzo lived at two Manhattan residences, including a $3.6 million apartment bought by Ng. Bieber said Lorenzo never lived in the apartment.
The case is U.S. v. Ashe, 15-mj-03562, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).