NEW YORK - A New York fashion designer admitted his role Wednesday in an alleged international bribery scheme involving the brother and nephew of former UN chief Ban Ki-moon, officials said.
Malcolm Harris, 53, pleaded guilty in a New York federal court to money laundering and wire fraud after pocketing a US$500,000 (S$694,650) bribe purportedly meant to persuade officials in an unnamed Middle Eastern country to purchase a 72-story building in Vietnam, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
The funds had been provided by Ban Ki-sang, a senior executive at South Korea's Keangnam Enterprises Co Ltd., and his son Joo Hyun Bahn, alias Dennis Bahn, who were attempting to sell the Hanoi skyscraper for US$800 million.
Ban is the brother of the former UN Secretary-General.
Since 1977, the United States has criminalized the bribery of foreign officials to win business.
Under the law, US authorities often pursue foreign nationals if their conduct involves US territories, the US banking system or companies whose stock is traded in the United States.
An indictment unsealed in January also charged Sang Woo, also known as John Woo, with conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Federal prosecutors believe that between March 2013 and May 2015, Harris, Bahn and Ban conspired to bribe an unidentified foreign official in the Middle East to secure the sale of the Landmark 72 Building, which had been built by Keangnam.
Harris falsely claimed to have connections to the foreign official, the Justice Department said in a statement, sending his alleged co-conspirators several phony emails purportedly written by that official.
In April 2014, Ban and Bahn allegedly agreed to pay a US$500,000 bribe upfront and US$2 million more once the sale closed.
But Harris pocketed the initial bribe, using it for lavish personal spending, including a luxury penthouse in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the statement said.
A case against Bahn is currently under way in New York while Ban is a fugitive currently residing in South Korea, according to the Justice Department.