By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The right-hand man to a billionaire Chinese real estate developer arrested by U.S. authorities for smuggling $4.5 million into the country has admitted the money was used to pay people for "unlawful activities," a federal prosecutor said.
Jeff Yin, who worked for Macau developer Ng Lap Seng, made those statements during a post-arrest interview on Saturday with U.S. law enforcement, prosecutor Daniel Richenthal told a federal judge in Manhattan.
"He made admissions consistent with the complaint and consistent with other evidence that among other things that cash was sent to people to engage in unlawful activities," Richenthal said.
The disclosure, contained in a court transcript from Saturday obtained on Tuesday, provided a hint at what U.S. authorities believe the intended purpose was for $4.5 million at the center of a case that became public Monday.
Ng, who heads Macau-based Sun Kian Yip Group, and Yin, his assistant, were arrested on Saturday for falsely claiming cash they brought into the United States from 2013 to 2015 from China was meant for buying art, antiques or real estate, or was to be used for gambling.
Richenthal, who belongs to a public corruption unit, said Yin, 29, after his arrest told investigators he transmitted money on Ng's behalf to pay people to do illegal activities.
Sabrina Shroff, Yin's lawyer, rejected that account and said he believed what Ng was doing was legal.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn set Yin's bail at $1 million and ordered he be placed under house arrest at his mother's house in California.
Ng, 68, had sought release on bail as well at a hearing on Monday. But Netburn determined Ng was a flight risk given his "significant resources," according to a recording of Monday's hearing.
Ng's net worth is $1.8 billion, and he earns $300 million annually, Janis Echenberg, another prosecutor, told Netburn. During his arrest on the way to a private airplane, Ng wore a $200,000 gold-encrusted watch with diamonds, she said.
Kevin Tung, his lawyer, countered: "People are rich. That is not equivalent of being criminal."
Echenberg also cited Ng's connection to investigations into how foreign money was funneled into the Democratic National Committee before the 1996 presidential election during the Clinton administration.
Amid a congressional investigation and arrests, Ng stopped coming to the United States from 1996 to 2000, Echenberg said, a fact "indicative of his unlikeliness to return now that he himself has been charged."
The current case is U.S. v. Seng, U.S. District Court, District of New York, No. 15-mj-03369.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)