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

Update and Summary as of February 2020 | ‘2015 United Nations Bribery Scandal’

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

In autumn 2015 arrests by the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) in New York (home of the United Nations headquarters) unveiled a multinational, multi-year scheme to launder money into the US and bribe United Nations (UN) officials, in particular to support the building of a new UN “Geneva of Asia” in Macau, China for the GSSD Expo (Global South-South Development Expo), an annual gathering organised by the UNOSSC (United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation). 

“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

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 and money laundering scheme targeting the United Nations worked. A series of court trials followed (2015-2018) for the various co-conspirators, including senior executives and board members for South-South News (see below), culminating in the 27 July 2017 conviction of the 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. On 11 May 2018 Ng Lap Seng was sentenced to 4 years in prison.

Two NGOs plus the office of the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) were used by the co-conspirators to perpetrate the scheme, according to court records and the Department of Justice (DOJ): 

1) South-South News: According to the United States Department of Justice, the executives of New York-based South-South News used the “21st century media platform dedicated to covering the stories of global development from the United Nations, governments, the private sector, and civil society” as a “conduit” for bribery and money laundering at the United Nations. South-South News executives were arrested in autumn 2015, along with former UN General Assembly President John Ashe (who was charged with “Filing False Income Tax Returns”). 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.

“The Government identified two specific acts that the Ambassadors obtained from other UN officials: (1) a letter of support for the Macau Conference Center signed by Yiping Zhou (“Zhou”), the then-Director of UNOSSC (together with other letters of support signed by Zhou, the “UNOSSC Support Letters”);”

“At various points during the trial, the Government presented evidence that the Ambassadors used their influence over Zhou to obtain the UNOSSC Support Letters and the Pro Bono Agreement. (See, e.g., Tr. 665:4-676:23, 764:10-766:25, 1217:18-1227:16, 1314:11-1316:23, 1345:14-1350:25.) During closing arguments, the Government argued, among other things, that Ng paid bribes to obtain the UNOSSC Support Letters and the Pro Bono Agreement. (See, e.g., Tr. 3934:18-23.) At no point during trial did defense counsel object to the UNOSSC Support Letters or the Pro Bono Agreement or to the Government’s reliance on those documents as evidence of official acts, nor did defense counsel request an adjournment to attempt to call Zhou or anyone else affiliated with the UNOSSC to testify.” (UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, v. NG LAP SENG, et al., United States District Court, S.D. New York. May 9, 2018.)

2) Global Sustainability Foundation (GSDF): According to the United States Department of Justice, the executives of the Global Sustainability Foundation, whose mandate was “dedicated to supporting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”,  were arrested and charged “for paying more than $800,000 in bribes to John W. Ashe (“Ashe”), the late former Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda (“Antigua”) to the United Nations (“UN”) and 68th President of the UN General Assembly.  [Sheri] Yan pled guilty in January 2016, and was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick.” 

U.S. Attorney Bharara stated: “As she admitted in court at her guilty plea, Shiwei [Sheri] Yan bribed the President of the UN General Assembly with hundreds of thousands of dollars to further private business interests.  For her role in corrupting the United Nations, Yan will serve time in a federal prison.”

Sheri (Shiwei) Yan’s husband is Roger Uren, a former ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) employee. Australia is part of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing alliance, along with the United States, the UK, Canada and New Zealand.  

UNGA President John Ashe said at the GSDF launch in 2014, “the Foundation is being launched at the ‘sunset of the MDGs era,’ and as the SDGs era approaches. He noted the difficulty in moving from eight goals and 18 targets as under the MDGs, to the 17 goals and 169 proposed for the SDGs, and said this is where the GSDF has an important role to play.”

3) Office of the President of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA): One of the co-conspirators in the scheme was former UN General Assembly President John Ashe. He died due to a weightlifting accident before he had to testify in a New York court room. According to Farrukh Khan, Program Manager on Climate Finance at the UN Secretary-General’s Office, Ashe played a key role in the negotiations for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

South-South News Executives, Co-conspirators and Charges

Ng Lap Seng, Macau casino owner and founder and funder of South-South News: 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.

Francis Lorenzo, Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN for the Dominican Republic and co-founder of South-South News: Bribery. Admitted to his role in the bribery scheme but was spared prison because of his cooperation in providing testimony. He was ordered to do community service and to pay US $243,965 in restitution. 

Julia Vivi (Vivian) Wang, Vice President of South-South News: Money laundering (https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud/file/1061036/download). She pleaded guilty to the charges on 4 April 2018.  

Jeff Yin, aide to Ng Lap Seng. On 28 February 2018 Jeff Yin received a seven-month prison sentence related to the corruption scandal.

Global Sustainability Foundation (GSDF) Executives and Charges

Shiwei (Sheri) Yan, Founder, Vice Chair and CEO for the Global Sustainability Foundation (GSF) (http://sdg.iisd.org/news/global-sustainable-development-foundation-launched-at-un/), whose purpose was “dedicated to supporting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”: Conspiracy to Commit Bribery. Sentenced to 20 months in prison. 

Heidi Hong Park (Piao), Finance Director for the GSF: Conspiracy to Commit Bribery.

John Ashe, President of UNGA 68 and Honorary Chairman of GSDF: Filing False Income Tax Returns.

The SDG Knowledge Hub posted an “Editor’s Note” in 2018 stating “In October 2015, Sheri Yan, John Ashe and several other individuals were charged in connection with a multi-year scheme to pay bribes to Ashe. The payments were delivered in part in relation to Ashe’s role as Honorary Chairman of GSDF. In July 2016, Sheri Yan was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to 20 months in prison for paying more than $800,000 in bribes to Ashe. Ashe died before he was sentenced in the case.”

President of the UN General Assembly and Charges

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

Macau: World Centre for Money Laundering, Sex Trafficking (Sources: UNODC and US Department of State)

According to the UNODC’s (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas, “Macau has for a long time been seen as a place to launder money and for organized crime to do business, and while times and methods have changed it still [is] unfortunately seen this way by many,” he told Macau Business. 

The money comes from drugs, counterfeit goods and medicines, people-smuggling, trafficking of wildlife and timber, and sex trafficking. 

According to the United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 2019, Macau is a centre for sex trafficking.

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, “The International Criminal Police Organization”. Despite this track record and multiple warning signs, both South-South News and the United Nations took money from Ng Lap Seng.

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”.  He is associated with the Wo On Lok triad (a triad believed by police to be heavily involved in global sex trafficking) (https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB888439204883313500).

UNOSSC

In 2015 the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) was headed by Director Yiping Zhou and Deputy Director Inyang Ebong-Harstrup. In 2016 an audit conducted by UNDP’s Office of Audit and Investigation (OAI) found it “unsatisfactory” – the lowest rating – “A rating of ‘unsatisfactory’ means that the assessed governance arrangements, risk management practices and controls were either not adequately established or not functioning well. Issues identified by the audit could seriously compromise the achievement of the objectives of the audited entity/area.” (https://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/pressreleases/2016/05/05/statement-concerning-the-united-nations-office-for-south-south-cooperation.html). 

In March 2015 UNOSSC Director Yiping Zhou signed a cooperation agreement with the Sun Kian Ip Group of Macau to “set up a multi-partner trust fund to promote the cause of South-South Cooperation” (https://usanewsonline.com/2015/03/07/south-south-cooperation-and-chinese-sun-kian-ip-group-signs-cooperation-agreement/). In April 2015 UNOSSC Deputy Director Inyang Ebong-Harstrup met with the Chairman of the Sun Kian Ip Group, Ng Lap Seng, in Macau (https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-n-team-had-cleared-group-at-center-of-bribery-case-1444432560).

“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)

More on the Strange Saga of South-South News here: http://www.davidsouthconsulting.com/blog/2018/3/4/the-strange-saga-of-south-south-news-may-2018.html

The complexities of UN-associated media outlets receiving funding from wealthy benefactors is not isolated to South-South News. Is it okay to use UN themed or associated news services to launder money into the United States and/or to donate illegally obtained funds from the countries of the global South? Whilst US authorities do not think so (thus the many court cases and prosecutions), the UN itself has not been leading on exposing these activities. In fact, the UN continues to pump out messaging on anti-corruption and ethics in development when these activities are both unethical and illegal and occuring in its name and on its premises. 

2014

PRESS RELEASE: IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN. IRIN humanitarian news service to spin off from the UN. Jynwel Foundation invests $25 million to create global non-profit media venture

2015

February

New York Times: TOWERS OF SECRECY: Jho Low, Well Connected in Malaysia, Has an Appetite for New York

2016

Devex: Will the development community face fallout from Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal?

“Late in 2014, just over a month before its financial relationship with the United Nations was set to expire, the humanitarian news agency IRIN found a new benefactor.

The Hong Kong-based Jynwel Charitable Foundation seemed to appear out of thin air. It did so in the form of its founder and director, Jho Taek Low, a young Malaysian financier and member of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s inner circle. Low joined U.N. officials and IRIN’s management team at a U.N. press conference to announce a gift that would secure IRIN’s future: $25 million from Jynwel to the news agency, to be delivered to IRIN over 15 years. The donation allowed the well-regarded news outlet, whose future had been in doubt, to spin off from the U.N. and relaunch as an independent, nonprofit organization.

Known for hosting lavish parties, buying luxury real estate and collecting expensive works of art, Low, through the Jynwel Charitable Foundation, has reoriented his public image around global development’s social calendar and attracted attention as an emerging-market donor and partner to high-profile development groups.

Low’s foundation sponsored the Social Good Summit in 2014 and 2015 and has given away millions of dollars, including to the United Nations Foundation, Panthera — which works to save big cats — and Keep A Child Alive, the AIDS-fighting organization co-founded by pop star Alicia Keys.”

2020

April

Bloomberg: U.S. Returns $300 Million Jho Low-Linked Funds to Malaysia

“The U.S. returned to Malaysia another $300 million that was recovered as part of the Justice Department’s forfeiture lawsuits targeting assets that fugitive financier Low Taek Jho and his associates bought with funds allegedly stolen from the country’s 1MDB investment fund.

With the latest repatriation, the U.S. has sent $600 million back to Malaysia as part of the continuing effort to seize and liquidate the assets, including real estate, business investments, art work and jewelry, that Low, commonly known as Jho Low, his family and his cronies acquired with the money they are accused of siphoning from the state fund after it was set up in 2009.”

What is the 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.”

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

Key words: Money laundering, #bribery, #FCPA, #trafficking, #SDGs, #southsouthnews

© David South Consulting 2018