Ex-Diplomat Tells Jurors He Got $1 Million Bribe From Developer

  • Chinese billionaire on trial in New York over UN corruption
  • Ng Lap Seng sought to build UN conference center in Macau

Ng Lap Seng leaves federal court in New York, on Oct. 26, 2015.

Photographer: Kathy Willens/AP Photo

A former United Nations diplomat testified that he got more than $1 million from a Chinese developer who was seeking backing for a UN conference center that he hoped to build in Macao.

The developer, billionaire Ng Lap Seng, is on trial charged with conspiracy and bribery in the biggest UN corruption scandal since the oil-for-food program in the early 2000s. He’s accused of funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to former UN General Assembly President John Ashe and other officials.

Francis Lorenzo, 50, one of the UN diplomats who took the bribes, told jurors in Manhattan Thursday that Ng hoped to build a permanent home for an annual UN conference on economic cooperation among developing countries. Lorenzo, the former Deputy Ambassador to the UN from the Dominican Republic, said the scheme ran for five years beginning in 2010. He referred to the developer as N.G. in his testimony.

"Why did you do what N.G. was asking you to do?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind asked Lorenzo.

"Because I was getting paid," the former ambassador answered.

Ng’s lawyer, Tai Park, told the jury in his opening statement that the payments weren’t bribes. Instead, Ng’s intention was to support the project, which he saw as a public-private partnership between himself and the UN.

Ng’s plan was to build the center for free to boost the value of a related complex of apartments, offices, a casino and hotel he also planned to develop. Ng and others involved were arrested before the center was built, Lorenzo testified.

The UN officials used their positions to advance Ng’s efforts to win formal support for the conference center development, including issuing a contract and agreement letters naming Ng’s company as the exclusive developer, he told jurors.

More on the indictment and the probe

Six people were originally charged, including Ashe, who died in a weightlifting accident last year. In addition to serving as president of the general assembly, Ashe was the ambassador to the UN from Antigua and Barbuda.

The remaining defendants have pleaded guilty, with some agreeing to cooperate with the prosecution. Lorenzo told jurors he’s cooperating with the hope he will get a reduced sentence.

Lorenzo was accused of funneling some of the bribe money to Ashe. In his guilty plea, he admitted that he helped get a $200,000 payment into a foreign bank account belonging to Ashe, saying “the purpose was to influence John Ashe to the benefit of Ng Lap Seng and others.”

The case is U.S. v Ashe et al, 15-cr-00706, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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