U.S. judge orders Macau billionaire's early prison release
By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, March 17 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday ordered billionaire Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng's early release from prison, rejecting prosecutors' argument that Ng's receiving a COVID-19 vaccine negated the basis to free him.
Ng, 72, has served 34 months of his four-year term following his 2017 conviction for bribing two United Nations ambassadors, including former General Assembly President John Ashe, to win support for a multibillion-dollar conference center he hoped to build in Macau.
U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick in Manhattan had on Monday ordered Ng's "compassionate release," citing Ng's worsening health and saying he would be safer in Macau than in a Pennsylvania prison with hundreds of COVID-19 cases.
Prosecutors asked the judge to reconsider, saying Ng was receiving Moderna Inc's MRNA.O COVID-19 vaccine, with his second dose expected by March 26. The judge, who had not known Ng was being vaccinated, rejected that request.
"There's a certain level of humanity that I've decided to exercise," Broderick said at a hearing.
Prosecutors had argued that the vaccination "substantially diminishes" Ng's argument for early freedom.
"Mr. Ng is not a danger to himself or anyone else because he is fully vaccinated," Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal argued before Broderick ruled. "That changes things."
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss in Manhattan declined to comment.
Ng is expected to be fully vaccinated and transferred to the custody of immigration officials before flying home. He had been eligible for release on Dec. 23.
Broderick "understood the human toll that changing his mind would have imposed on Mr. Ng, to first being told you are going home only to then be told that the court had changed his mind," Ng's lawyer Benjamin Brafman said in an email. "That additional trauma was not something he would allow."
The case is U.S. v. Ng, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-cr-00706.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)