The Strange Saga Of “South-South News” | May 2018

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“We will be asking: is bribery business as usual at the UN?”, US Attorney Preet Bharara, October 2015

“If proven, today’s charges will confirm that the cancer of corruption that plagues too many local and state governments infects the United Nations as well.”, US Attorney Preet Bharara, October 2015

“Corruption at any level of government undermines the rule of law and cannot be tolerated. But corruption is especially corrosive when it occurs at an international body like the United Nations. By paying bribes to two U.N. ambassadors to advance his interest in obtaining formal support for the Macau conference center project, Ng Lap Seng tried to manipulate the functions of the United Nations. The sentence handed down today demonstrates that those who engage in corruption will pay a heavy price and serves as a reminder that no one stands above the law.”, Acting Assistant General John P. Cronan, May 2018

“It is important to send a message, to the people at the UN itself and to other institutions in this country, that perverting the decision-making or attempting to pervert the decision-making through bribes will not be tolerated.”, US District Judge Vernon Broderick, May 2018

It is a story that has it all: the gambling sin-bin of Macau, human and sex trafficking, bribery, corruption, money laundering, spies, and, if they are to be believed, naive UN officials hiding behind their laissez-passer passports who knew nothing about all of this but were happy to take the money for a five-star conference and a trip to China (and a free iPad). How the UN ended up in this quagmire leaves many puzzled and perplexed. Then there is a so-called “21st century” media service that really is a “conduit” for bribery and money laundering (and possibly fake news), and who to this day is still reporting from the United Nations.

May 2018 saw the ending of one chapter in the ongoing corruption saga surrounding the executives of South-South News and their alleged bribery and money laundering conduit targeting the United Nations (UN). On 11 May 2018 Ng Lap Seng was sentenced to 4 years in prison for being the ring leader of an elaborate, multi-year, multinational scheme to bribe UN officials and launder money into the United States.

On 28 February 2018 Jeff Yin received a seven-month prison sentence related to the corruption scandal that first erupted in September 2015, with the arrests in New York (home of the UN’s global headquarters) of his boss, Macau casino owner and businessman Ng Lap Seng and assistant, Yin, by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation). Foreign Policy called the case one of “The Worst Corruption Scandals of 2015”. Read the US Justice Department Docket here: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/fcpa/cases/ng-lap-seng-and-jeff-c-yin.

The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York at the time, Preet Bharara, released a flowchart showing how the alleged bribery scheme targetting the United Nations worked. A series of court trials followed for the various co-conspirators, including senior executives and board members for South-South News, culminating in the 27 July 2017 conviction of the alleged ring leader of the scheme, Macau casino billionaire Ng Lap Seng, on six counts “for his role in a scheme to bribe United Nations ambassadors to obtain support to build a conference center in Macau that would host, among other events, the annual United Nations Global South-South Development Expo“. He used the news service South-South News as a “conduit for bribery and money laundering” at the United Nations, according to the FBI, something admitted to by various co-conspirators in court and under oath.

“South-South staff found him to be ‘humble, very happy to host a meeting and become closer to the U.N.,’ said Inyang Ebong-Harstrup, deputy director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, a division of the U.N., who met Mr. Ng in August when she traveled to Macau.” The Wall Street Journal (9 October 2015)

Background

The “21st century” media service South-South News (which still exists) was founded in 2010 by Ng Lap Seng and Ambassador Francis Lorenzo with US $12 million. According to the FBI, Seng did this with the objective of bribing UN officials, laundering money into the United States – bringing US $4.5 million into the US in cash over a period of two years – and lobbying for the building of a new UN facility in Macau for the annual Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) – a “Geneva of Asia”. The new facility would cost US $3 billion and be built by Ng Lap Seng’s construction company.

Macau has been called by a former UN official in charge of the organisation’s anti-human trafficking work a world centre of modern human slave trafficking. Ng Lap Seng, in a 2010 assessment by International Risk Ltd., was found to be “characterized in the media as a ‘Macau Crime Lord’ and kingpin of the international slave prostitution trade”.

Ng Lap Seng’s Sun Kian Ip Group was barred from the UN’s Global Compact, according to The Wall Street Journal, and Seng was flagged up as a person not to do business with, including by Interpol. Despite this track record and multiple warning signs, both South-South News and the United Nations took money from Ng Lap Seng. The UN has clear rules regarding due dilligence for income sources and has rules against bribery, corruption and human and sex trafficking in all its forms.

One of the co-conspirators in the scheme was former UN General Assembly President John Ashe. He died due to a weightlifting accident a day before he had to testify in a New York court room.

Other Co-Conspirators and Charges:

John W. Ashe, President of UN General Assembly: Filing False Income Tax Returns

Heidi Hong Park, Global Sustainability Foundation – Finance Director: Conspiracy to Commit Bribery

Shiwei (Sheri) Yan, Global Sustainability Foundation – Founder and CEO: Conspiracy to Commit Bribery

Francis Lorenzo, Deputy Permanent Respresentative to the UN for the Dominican Republic: Bribery

Sources: Foreign Policy, Stanford Law School, US Justice Department, The Wall Street Journal.

In the Headlines

2015

March

USA News Online.com: South-South Cooperation and Chinese Sun Kian Ip Group Signs [sic] Cooperation Agreement

September

ABCNews: FBI Arrests Chinese Millionaire Once Tied to Clinton $$ Scandal

October

News24: UN Looks at Donations Linked to Bribery Scandal

South China Morning Post: UN rejects US$15 million donation from Macau billionaire Ng Lap Seng pending bribery investigation

The New York Times: Former U.N. President and Chinese Billionaire Are Accused in Graft Scheme

The Wall Street Journal: U.N. Team Had Cleared Group at Center of Bribery Case

“South-South staff found him to be ‘humble, very happy to host a meeting and become closer to the U.N.,’ said Inyang Ebong-Harstrup, deputy director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, a division of the U.N., who met Mr. Ng in August when she traveled to Macau.” The Wall Street Journal (9 October 2015)

The Wall Street Journal: Nonprofit Ties Scrutinized in U.N. Scandal: Alleged role of two nonprofits in bribery case sheds lights on interlaced relationships between diplomats and privately funded groups

November

Nikkei Asian Review: U.S. prosecutors allege Ng paid bribes until arrest

“Ng is charged with paying $500,000 in bribes to former United Nations diplomat John W. Ashe, primarily to get him to push for the construction of a “multibillion dollar” U.N. expo center in Macau for the benefit of Ng’s Sun Kian Ip Group.”

“Statements and briefs filed by the prosecutors indicate Ng’s financial activities in the U.S. surged this year in the weeks before and after an Aug. 25-26 U.N. conference in Macau at which some 200 delegates endorsed the construction of a “South-South Expo” center in the city.”

“Ashe played a prominent role at the Macau meeting both as chairman of the U.N. South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development and as co-chairman of Ng’s Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation, which sponsored the event.”

“Francis Lorenzo, who has been charged with acting as a middleman for Ng’s alleged bribes, played a similar range of roles at the Macau meeting. He was there as executive president of the South-South steering committee and the International Organization for South-South Cooperation, president of the Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation and deputy U.N. ambassador for the Dominican Republic. Around 20 U.N. ambassadors attended the meeting.”

“The Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation donated $1.5 million to the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation to help finance the Macau meeting and another one held in Dhaka in May; the foundation earlier this year offered the U.N. office a further $13.5 million but U.N. officials have said that will not be accepted as the organization has launched multiple reviews of its ties to the foundation following the arrests of Ng and Ashe.”

2016

March

Courthouse News: United Nations Bribery Scandal Snares Gala VP

April

Reuters: U.N. news outlet at center of bribery case defends its intergrity

August

The Wall Street Journal: Former Air China Manager Charged with Smuggling in U.S. for Chinese Military: Suspect is associate of Macau billionaire in U.N. bribery scheme

2017

July

Financial Times: Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng convicted in UN bribery case: Tycoon paid inducements to promote ‘Geneva of Asia’ project in Macau

2018

March

South China Morning Post: Ex-aide of Macau billionaire Ng Lap Seng, jailed by US in fallout from UN bribery scandal, blames ‘traditional’ Chinese upbringing

April

Macau Daily Times: Prosecutors Want Six Years in Ng Lap Seng Sentencing

Reuters: Chinese-born Executive Pleads Guilty in U.N. Bribery Case

May

ABS-CBN News: Chinese Billionaire Sentenced Four Years in UN Scandal

The New York Times: Macau Tycoon Gets 4 Years in Prison for Bribing U.N. Diplomats

News Americas: Jail for Chinese Billionaire Who Bribed Caribbean Born UN Officials

Reuters: Macau Billionaire Gets Four Years Prison for Bribing U.N. Officials

LawFuel: Billionaire Jailed for 4 Years Over Casino Bribery Role

South China Morning Post: Chinese Billionaire Ng Lap-Seng gets Four Years in US Prison for Bribing UN Officials US$1.7m to Support Plans for Macau Conference Centre

The Sydney Morning Herald: Political Donor Chau Chak Wing Behind UN Bribe Scandal, Parliament told

Channel NewsAsia: Chinese-Australian Political Donor ‘Linked to UN Bribery Scandal’

The New York Times: In Australia, Fears of Chinese Meddling Rise on U.N. Bribery Case Revelation

The Australian: China’s UN Power Game

Further Reading

ONU: la grande imposture by Pauline Lietar

Statement concerning the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

“The United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) is an independent entity created by the General Assembly in 1974, General Assembly resolution 3251(XXIX), to support cooperation among developing countries.

UNOSSC receives its mandate and policy framework from General Assembly decisions and resolutions. UNOSSC also serves as the Secretariat of the High-level Committee (HLC) on South-South Cooperation, a subsidiary body of the General Assembly.

UNOSSC is hosted by UNDP and, as is the case with similar entities, is expected to follow UNDP rules and regulations, including those pertaining to financial and HR management. UNOSSC is likewise subject to UNDP’s oversight and due diligence instruments.

UNDP’s Office of Audit and Investigation (OAI) recently published an Audit of UNOSSC which rated the Office ‘unsatisfactory’.

The Audit makes 16 recommendations with the objective of improving UNOSSC’s  effectiveness in the areas of: governance; programme and project activities; and operations.” Excerpt from Statement (5 May 2016)

How to Report Corruption and Bribery at UNDP (United Nations Development Programme)

The Office of Audit and Investigations (OAI) “provides UNDP with effective independent and objective internal oversight that is designed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of UNDP’s operations in achieving its development goals and objectives through the provision of internal audit and related advisory services, and investigation services.”

They can be directly emailed here: reportmisconduct@undp.org

Note: This blog post provides a summary of the unfolding corruption case that targeted the United Nations from 2010 and was revealed in 2015 by US authorities. It is offered as a resource for those interested in the role played by corruption in international development and international institutions, or who are interested in case law and the application of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. If anything, the case stands as a brazen act of criminality and corruption, and, with South-South News still based out of the United Nations and still functioning as a news service, maybe proof the UN has a long wy to go to walk the talk on fighting corruption.

In future blog posts we will explore what the ongoing trials have revealed about this case and the United Nations and what lessons can be learned.

Key Terms and Definitions

Bribe: Ttry to make someone do something for you by giving them moneypresents, or something else that they want.  

Bribery: The crime of giving someone money or something else of value, often illegally, to persuade that person to do something you want.

Corruption: Dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.

Discovery: The process of finding information, a place, or an objectespecially for the first time, or the thing that is found. Part of a legal process in which the lawyers from one side in a case give documents relating to their case to the other side, before the trial begins.

Due Diligence: Action that is considered reasonable for people to be expected to take in order to keep themselves or others and their property safe. The detailed examination of a company and its financial records, done before becoming involved in a business arrangement with it.

FCPA: The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, as amended, 15 U.S.C. §§ 78dd-1, et seq. (“FCPA”), was enacted for the purpose of making it unlawful for certain classes of persons and entities to make payments to foreign government officials to assist in obtaining or retaining business. Specifically, the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA prohibit the willful use of the mails or any means of instrumentality of interstate commerce corruptly in furtherance of any offer, payment, promise to pay, or authorization of the payment of money or anything of value to any person, while knowing that all or a portion of such money or thing of value will be offered, given or promised, directly or indirectly, to a foreign official to influence the foreign official in his or her official capacity, induce the foreign official to do or omit to do an act in violation of his or her lawful duty, or to secure any improper advantage in order to assist in obtaining or retaining business for or with, or directing business to, any person.

Money Laundering: The crime of moving money that has been obtained illegally through banks and other businesses to make it seem as if the money has been obtained legally.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The Division for Sustainable Development Goals (DSDG) seeks to provide leadership and catalyse action in promoting and coordinating implementation of internationally agreed development goals, including the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UN: The United Nations is an international organization founded in 1945.  It is currently made up of 193 Member States.  The mission and work of the United Nations are guided by the purposes and principles contained in its founding Charter.

UNDP: United Nations Development Programme. On the ground in about 170 countries and territories, UNDP works to eradicate poverty while protecting the planet.

UN Global Compact: A call to companies to align strategies and operations with universal principles on human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption, and take actions that advance societal goals.

UN General Assembly: The General Assembly is one of the six main organs of the United Nations, the only one in which all Member States have equal representation: one nation, one vote. All 193 Member States of the United Nations are represented in this unique forum to discuss and work together on a wide array of international issues covered by the UN Charter, such as development, peace and security, international law, etc.

UNOSSC: United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (formerly the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation). The United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) is a knowledge hub providing advisory and consulting services to all stakeholders on South-South and triangular cooperation. It enables developing countries to effectively face their development challenges and harness opportunities to address them.

© David South Consulting 2018