Feds: Ex-UN official's relatives indicted in bribe scheme

01/10/17 09:04 PM EST

NEW YORK (AP) — Two relatives of former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were charged in an indictment unsealed Tuesday with plotting to bribe a Middle East official to influence the $800 million sale of a building complex in Vietnam.

Ban's nephew, Joo Hyun Bahn, was released on $250,000 bail over the objections of prosecutors, who sought to deny bail on the grounds that he is a flight risk and a financial threat to his community. Though charged, Bahn's father, Ban Ki Sang, was not in custody.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Noble told U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox that Bahn was willing to do anything to succeed in business, including trying to pay $2.5 million in bribes to rescue the failed $800 million real estate deal.

According to the indictment, Bahn and his father plotted from March 2013 to May 2015 to induce a foreign official to try to persuade his country's sovereign wealth fund to rescue the real estate deal. It said a $500,000 bribe paid to a local businessman to arrange a $2 million bribe of the foreign official was instead wasted on lavish expenses by the businessman, who did not have the connections he boasted about.

The indictment alleged that Bahn's father, a senior executive at Keangnam Enterprises Co. Limited, a South Korean construction company, went to his son for help in 2013 when Keangnam was experiencing a liquidity crisis.

The indictment said Bahn would earn a commission of at least $5 million if he could secure an investor for Landmark 72, the Vietnam building complex, which included a 72-story commercial office building that was then the tallest building in the Indochina Peninsula and had cost Keangnam more than $1 billion to construct.

Prosecutors said Bahn repeatedly lied to Keangnam and its creditors about the status of the potential deal, making them think the Vietnam complex was about to be bought. When the sale never materialized, Keangnam was forced to enter court receivership in South Korea, the indictment said.

Noble said a nine-count indictment including charges that Bahn, also known as Dennis Bahn, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, engaged in money laundering and committed wire fraud could result in a prison sentence of between nine and 10 years.

"He's a liar. He is a master of deceit and we believe poses a very high risk of flight," Noble said.

The prosecutor said Bahn, a New Jersey resident, made incriminating statements after his arrest to FBI agents about a case in which he is accused of paying a $500,000 bribe to a local businessman, forging documents and stealing over $200,000 from one of his clients.

Defense lawyer Julia Gatto cast her client's statement to the FBI in a positive light, saying Bahn was cooperative after his arrest.

She argued that her 38-year-old client had deep roots in the New York area, where he has lived for the past 18 years, attaining lawful permanent resident status and raising young children with his wife while earning $9,000 monthly through his work in commercial real estate. She said he has opened his own firm with a partner.

She said he also teaches undergraduate students at New York University and needed to prepare for the start of classes later this month.

Fox agreed to a bail package that required the posting of $10,000 in cash or property. He also rejected the government's request for electronic monitoring of Bahn.