New York 'middleman' pleads guilty in bribery scheme tied to Hanoi skyscraper

By Reuters/Brendan Pierson   June 23, 2017 | 12:44 am PT
New York 'middleman' pleads guilty in bribery scheme tied to Hanoi skyscraper
A 'supermoon' rises over the Keangnam Hanoi Landmark tower on November 14, 2016, in Hanoi. Photo by AFP
The notorious case involves a brother of former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

A New York fashion designer who has called himself the "curator of cool" pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges stemming from a bribery case that involves a brother and nephew of former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Self-described arts and fashion consultant and blogger Malcolm Harris, 53, entered his plea to money laundering and wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in federal court in Manhattan, U.S. prosecutors said.

Harris is scheduled to be sentenced on September 27. His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Harris was charged in January with agreeing to act as a middleman in an international bribery scheme involving a potential $800 million international real estate deal, and then running off with his co-conspirators' money.

Also charged were Ban Ki-moon's brother Ban Ki-sang, who was an executive at South Korean construction firm Keangnam Enterprises Ltd, and Ban Ki-sang's son Joo Hyun "Dennis" Bahn, a real estate broker.

Ban Ki-moon was long expected to make a bid for the presidency of South Korea, but announced in February that he would not run, citing "fake news."

According to an indictment filed in New York federal court, Ban Ki-sang arranged for Keangnam to hire his son to broker a refinancing on the Landmark 72 building complex in Hanoi, which cost over $1 billion to construct, to help the company deal with a liquidity crisis.

In March 2013, Bahn, through an acquaintance, met Harris, who has counted Madonna among his famous friends. According to celebrity TV show Access Hollywood, he has also sold dresses to Angelina Jolie.

Harris told Bahn that he could help get a deal via his connections, which he said included members of a Middle Eastern royal family, and offered to bribe an official to arrange the Landmark 72's sale to a sovereign wealth fund, according to prosecutors.

In April 2014, Bahn and Ban Ki-sang agreed to pay an upfront $500,000 bribe and another $2 million upon the sale's closing to the official, with Harris acting as middleman, prosecutors said.

They said Harris had no actual connection to the official, however, and kept the $500,000 for himself.

He spent the money on airfare, hotels, lavish meals, furniture, rent for a Manhattan apartment and a six-month lease for a penthouse in the fashionable Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, according to the indictment.

Bahn has pleaded guilty, and Ban Ki-sang remains at large, according to prosecutors.

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