National News

Judge Orders Chinese Billionaire to Report to Prison

Posted July 17, 2018 10:31 p.m. EDT

NEW YORK — The dispute over when a Chinese billionaire, Ng Lap Seng, should begin serving a four-year prison sentence imposed on him in May appeared to end Monday night when a federal judge in Manhattan ordered that he surrender to authorities on Wednesday at noon.

Ng, who is said to be worth $1.8 billion, was convicted last year of bribery, money laundering and other counts in connection with a United Nations bribery scandal, and was originally given two months — until July 10 — to surrender.

Recently, his lawyers asked the judge to extend their client’s surrender date for two more months, until Sept. 10, so Ng would have “sufficient time to get his complex business affairs in order.”

They noted that he ran a “vast network of real estate businesses in China with many employees and a diverse portfolio of holdings worth billions of dollars,” and that he had been “working diligently to arrange for the management of his business while he is incarcerated.”

The office of Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, objected, arguing that Ng was trying “to put off prison as long as possible on the ground that he is a successful businessman.” The government said Ng’s request was unwarranted, inequitable and should be denied.

When the judge, Vernon S. Broderick of U.S. District Court, rejected the additional postponement, Ng’s lawyers asked for further short extensions, ultimately until July 23, citing their client’s medical problems.

They noted that Ng, 70, underwent a procedure one week ago to have stents implanted in two coronary arteries; and it was discovered he had had a small stroke. The government argued that no further delay was necessary, and that he should surrender.

Ng’s case had become a symbol of the debate over whether the wealthy seek special treatment in the criminal justice system.

After his 2015 arrest, Ng was granted a $50 million bond, secured by $20 million in cash, and ordered into “home detention” — at his own expense — in an apartment at 240 East 47th St., subject to GPS monitoring and an armed security team. Prosecutors had objected to the conditions, saying Ng had access to private airplanes, foreign passports and was a risk to flee.

On Monday, a prosecutor, Janis Echenberg, told the judge, “This is a defendant who has gotten a lot of special treatment and it must end.”

When Broderick asked what she had meant, Echenberg noted that Ng had been able to afford the cost of his home detention and was able to stay out of jail pending trial, “whereas someone who is not as wealthy and not as fortunate would have been in prison.”

Ng’s lawyer, Tai H. Park, argued that it would be “far more optimal for Mr. Ng to have just another week” to see his doctor and make sure his blood pressure was under control and “the rest of him is just made a little bit more comfortable with what’s about to happen.”

Park noted that Ng, of Macau, China, had only a grade school education and feared “the unknown” of being driven for several hours to the penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania, where he might have trouble communicating with his doctors without an interpreter.

Echenberg, the prosecutor, responded that the treatment Ng had received should not prevent him from surrendering. “He may be very afraid,” Echenberg said. “I suspect everyone who is on the eve of surrendering to a four-year prison term is very afraid.”

The government had also submitted to the judge a letter from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons saying that it could provide Ng with the “necessary and appropriate care.”

At the hearing, a cardiologist called by Ng’s lawyers, testified that Ng would benefit from another week before having to surrender, while another cardiologist, testifying for the government, said there was no medical necessity for such a delay.

Broderick echoed that view, saying there was “no medical reason” for Ng to remain out of prison until next Monday.

“The anxiety, the fear, the desire not to go is going to be there, and there is nothing I can do to relieve that,” he said.