Former United Nations General Assembly President Charged in Bribery Scheme

Criminal complaint names six people in wide-ranging scheme alleged to involve Chinese business people


NEW YORK—A former president of the United Nations General Assembly and five others were accused Tuesday of engaging in a bribery scheme, part of what federal authorities said was a wider probe into corruption in the top ranks of the international body.

“We will be asking, is bribery business as usual at the U.N.?” said Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, at a news conference announcing the charges.

Authorities allege that John Ashe, a former ambassador to the U.N. for the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda who led the U.N.’s 68th General Assembly in 2013, accepted more than $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businesspeople in exchange for advancing their interests in the U.N. Among the interests was support for a planned U.N. conference center in Macau, a Chinese special administrative region, and development in the Caribbean, authorities claim.

A deputy U.N. representative from the Dominican Republic and two employees of a nonprofit organization based in New York also were arrested and charged in the alleged scheme. A Macau real estate mogul and his assistant, who were arrested in September on related charges, also were charged Tuesday and remain in custody.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Ban Ki-moon, the U.N.’s secretary-general, was shocked and troubled by the allegations. “These allegations go to the heart of the integrity of the United Nations,” Mr. Dujarric said. Officials at the U.N. and the organization’s legal team weren’t aware of the investigation, Mr. Dujarric said. “Corruption is not business as usual at the U.N.,” he said.

Mr. Ashe is charged with two counts of tax fraud in connection with the alleged scheme, which extended from 2011 through 2014, according to the complaint. He also is accused of taking millions of dollars in salaries funneled through nongovernmental organizations connected to Chinese businesspeople.

Mr. Ashe couldn’t be reached and an attorney for him didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The complaint alleges that Mr. Ashe shared a portion of the bribes with unnamed senior Antiguan officials, including the country’s then-prime minister, Baldwin Spencer.

The government of Antigua and Barbuda said in a statement that it was aware of the charges and was monitoring the situation. Mr. Ashe was replaced as U.N. representative in 2014. Ng Lap Seng, the Macau real estate mogul, and his assistant Jeff C. Yin were arrested by U.S. officials on Sept. 19 and charged with lying about the purpose of more than $4.5 million in cash they allegedly had brought into the U.S. since 2013.

Mr. Bharara said the investigation would continue to scrutinize the $4.5 million, only some of which was accounted for in the complaint Tuesday. The complaint alleges that the defendants used nongovernmental organizations in the U.S., “which were purportedly established to promote the U.N.’s mission” and development goals, to conceal their bribes and advance the scheme. Mr. Lorenzo is alleged to have drawn a salary from at least one of the organizations.

Messrs. Ashe and Lorenzo, along with a consultant at one of the nongovernmental organizations in the complaint, drafted and submitted a document to the U.N. secretary-general stating that the Antiguan prime minister and other heads of state had launched a “global business incubator” that Mr. Ng was seeking to host at his proposed conference center, the complaint says.

The official U.N. document was then used to promote the proposed center to other U.N. officials, the complaint says. Mr. Dujarric said he was unable to find the document. Authorities allege that Mr. Ashe used the bribes to support a lavish lifestyle including a leased BMW, first-class flights, a family vacation, the purchase of Rolex watches and custom suits, and construction of a private basketball court at his home in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

Messrs. Ashe and Lorenzo could be shielded by diplomatic immunity in certain circumstances, but the complaint said they can be prosecuted for crimes outside the scope of their official positions.

The others charged Tuesday were Shiwei Yan, also known as Sheri Yan, and Heidi Hong Piao, also known as Heidi Park, whom prosecutors say were the CEO and finance director, respectively, of a nongovernmental organization based in New York City. The women arranged for over $800,000 in payments to Mr. Ashe to advance the interests of unnamed Chinese executives with the Antiguan government and others, according to U.S. officials.

One of the nongovernmental organizations entangled in the alleged scheme is South-South News, which identifies itself as a “21st-century media platform” focused on the developing world and which Mr. Ng has supported, according to the complaint, with more than $12 million.

An employee of the organization, which listed Mr. Lorenzo as its president, is alleged to have helped advance the alleged scheme by drafting letters to the U.N. on Mr. Ashe’s behalf. In a statement Tuesday on its website, South-South News said the staff was “disappointed and shocked to learn about these allegations,” and said the charges, if true, would be a “serious blow to our mission.”

All the defendants appeared in court Wednesday afternoon. They didn’t enter pleas and remain detained.

The Wall Street Jurnal
06 October 2015