By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Macau billionaire accused of bribing a former United Nations General Assembly president on Thursday accused the U.S. government of prosecuting him for geopolitical reasons to slow China's influence over developing nations.
In papers filed in Manhattan federal court, lawyers for real estate developer Ng Lap Seng said the case appeared intended to silence his advocacy for a conference center in Macau, which would have given developing nations a permanent meeting venue in China.
Ng and his assistant, Jeff Yin, were charged last year for engaging in a bribery scheme with former U.N. General Assembly President John Ashe.
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Prosecutors said Ng gave Ashe more than $500,000 in bribes so the diplomat, among other things, would seek U.N. support for the conference center, which Ng's company, Sun Kian Ip Group, would develop.
Classified documents and the authorities' focus on whether an associate of Ng was a Chinese agent demonstrated the U.S. government's motives in charging him, Ng's lawyers wrote.
"All these circumstances strongly suggest that the prosecution of Mr. Ng is not, and never was, about policing the integrity of U.N. operations," they wrote.
Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served as General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, died in June while awaiting trial.
Ng, who before his arrest sat on the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an adviser to the government, is scheduled to face trial in January.
"The U.S. geopolitical interest in slowing the progress of Chinese influence over developing nations has been achieved," Ng's lawyers wrote.
A Spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting the case, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The motion sought documents that Ng's lawyers said prosecutors had refused to hand over. It was accompanied by a transcript of an Federal Bureau of Investigation interview with Ng conducted after his September 2015 arrest on earlier charges.
His lawyers said the FBI's questions focused less on bribery and more on identifying an individual whom Ng called his partner and determining whether Ng knew whether that person was a Chinese agent.
Ng, who was previously connected to a 1990s campaign finance scandal during President Bill Clinton's administration, in the interview also discussed having met Clinton, along with members of Congress and President Barack Obama.
"A friend said, 'You want to speak to U.S. President?'" Ng said through an interpreter. "I said, 'Yeah, of course, first black President.'"
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)