Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Macau Businessman Connected to Las Vegas Sands Bribery Probe

Macau Businessman Connected to Las Vegas Sands Bribery Probe

Ng Lap Seng had been arrested in New York last weekend for unrelated alleged customs violations

A half-size Eiffel Tower replica will be part of the Parisian Macao casino-resort that Las Vegas Sands is building in Macau.ENLARGE
A half-size Eiffel Tower replica will be part of the Parisian Macao casino-resort that Las Vegas Sands is building in Macau. PHOTO: JEROME FAVRE/BLOOMBERG NEWS
A real-estate mogul from the Chinese gambling territory of Macau who was arrested in New York last weekend surfaced earlier in a continuing federal bribery probe intoSheldon Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp., according to a document and a person familiar with the matter.
Sands ordered staff to retain all reports on billionaire Ng Lap Seng to comply with demands for information from federal investigators pursuing the bribery probe, according to a 2011 company memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Ng hasn't been accused of wrongdoing in conjunction with the probe.
Mr. Ng, whose political connections stretch from Beijing to Washington, is currently being held on charges of lying to customs officials about the purpose of $4.5 million in cash he brought into the U.S. Mr. Ng was detained Saturday and no bail has been set, according to court documents. Mr. Ng’s New York lawyer, Kevin Tung, said he believes his client is innocent.
The Sands memo about the bribery investigation also references a proposed real-estate deal that people familiar with the matter have said involved Mr. Ng and his associateMarshall Hao, who were both last year served with subpoenas to testify in front of a federal grand jury in Las Vegas.
It is unclear what the focus of the grand jury was or if it is still active.
Messrs. Ng and Hao were involved in a series of events first reported by the Journal in 2012 in which an outside legal adviser to Sands told the company that “someone high ranking in Beijing” had proposed Mr. Adelson authorize Sands to pay $300 million to get a $1.4 billion real estate deal approved and to settle a lawsuit that had been filed against it by Mr. Hao, according to the emails reviewed by the Journal.
The emails were sent in 2009 to Sands’ former Macau chief executive Steve Jacobs by Macau legislator Leonel Alves, Mr. Ng’s longtime lawyer who often travels with him to Beijing, according to people familiar with the matter.
As part of the 2009 proposal, Mr. Ng would help ensure that Macau officials gave Sands the go-ahead on the deal, and Mr. Hao would receive $100 million to settle his lawsuit against the company, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Ron Reese, a spokesman for Sands, on Thursday reiterated to the Journal that “at no time has there ever been any suggestion that the company made any improper payments or received any improper benefits.”
Mr. Alves said in 2012 that any claims he had suggested bribing government officials were “totally untrue.” He didn’t respond to fresh requests for comment Friday.
Subpoenas reviewed by the Journal were served on both Mr. Ng and Mr. Hao as they dined in a private room at a Chinese restaurant near Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria, according to people familiar with the matter. Neither appeared to testify before the grand jury in Las Vegas on Sept. 17, 2014, as ordered, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Ng said he sent word through an intermediary that he was too busy, according to Mr. Tung, his lawyer.
Mr. Ng continued to make frequent, quick trips to the U.S., often on a private jet, carrying stacks of cash and falsely claiming to customs officials that the money was for buying art, antiques or real estate, or for gambling at casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, according to allegations in a complaint made public on Monday in federal court in the Southern District of New York.
The separate bribery investigation into Sands was prompted by allegations made in a wrongful termination suit by Mr. Jacobs, the former executive.
Justice Department officials from New York, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., headquarters didn't comment on whether prosecutors and investigators might work together on the distinct matters involving Mr. Ng. The federal agent who served the subpoena on Mr. Ng is the same one who investigated him in the customs case, according to the complaint.
Sands is continuing to cooperate with the government on the bribery probe, said company spokesman Mr. Reese on Thursday. In March 2013, Sands said an internal review in conjunction with the probe had found the casino operator had likely violated books and records provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act but that it hadn’t found evidence the company bribed officials.
Mr. Ng is widely known in Macau—the world’s biggest gambling center, which last year took in seven times as much gambling revenue as the Las Vegas Strip—as a power broker in Beijing, where he is a member of the Chinese government’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
In the U.S., he is known for his alleged role in the so-called 1990s Donorgate scandal. According to a 1998 report by the U.S. Senate’s Governmental Affairs Committee, he provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in foreign funds to an intermediary who passed on the money to the Democratic National Committee. While others pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws, Mr. Ng wasn’t accused of wrongdoing.
Sands still hasn’t gotten approval to do its real estate deal. Mr. Hao’s Macau suit against the company—in which he alleges Sands improperly terminated a 2001 agreement to make a joint bid for a Macau casino license—is pending, according to his lawyer Jorge Menezes. Mr. Reese said Sands is trying to get the case dismissed.
Mr. Adelson has sued Wall Street Journal reporter Kate O’Keeffe for libel. A spokeswoman for the Journal, which wasn’t named in the suit, has said the newspaper will continue to vigorously defend Ms. O’Keeffe.