“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.
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.
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
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
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: email@example.com
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.