Ex-UN of­fi­cial among 6 held in bribery scheme

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY LARRY NEUMEIS­TER AND TOM HAYS

A for­mer pres­i­dent of the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly turned the world body into a “plat­form for profit” by ac­cept­ing over US$1 mil­lion in bribes from a bil­lion­aire Chi­nese real es­tate mogul and other busi­ness­peo­ple to pave the way for lu­cra­tive in­vest­ments, a pros­e­cu­tor charged Tues­day.

John Ashe, a for­mer U.N. am­bas­sador from An­tigua and Bar­buda who served in the largely cer­e­mo­nial post as head of the 193-na­tion assem­bly from Septem­ber 2013 to Septem­ber 2014, faces tax fraud charges in what author­i­ties call a con­spir­acy with five oth­ers, in­clud­ing Fran­cis Lorenzo, a deputy U.N. am­bas­sador from the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic who lives in the Bronx.

U.S. At­tor­ney Preet Bharara re­peat­edly noted that it was early in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion and told re­porters that as it pro­ceeds: “We will be ask­ing: Is bribery busi­ness as usual at the U.N.?”

He added: “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if we see other peo­ple charged.”

The pros­e­cu­tor said Ashe “con­verted the United Na­tions into a plat­form for profit” when bribery op­por­tu­ni­ties were dan­gled be­fore him by Chi­nese bil­lion­aire Ng Lap Seng, 67, and oth­ers.

“We ob­vi­ously just learned of the very se­ri­ous al­le­ga­tions this morn­ing,” Stephane Du­jar­ric, spokesman for U. N. Sec­re­taryGen­eral Ban Ki-moon, told re­porters. Du­jar­ric said Ban was “shocked and deeply trou­bled” by the al­le­ga­tions that “go to the heart and in­tegrity of the U.N.”

Still, he chal­lenged Bharara’s in­sin­u­a­tions, say­ing, “Cor­rup­tion is not busi­ness as usual at the U.N.” He said the U.N.’s le­gal depart­ment and se­nior of­fi­cials were not in­formed of the probe in ad­vance.

Du­jar­ric noted that the pres­i­dent of the Gen­eral Assem­bly “does not re­port to the sec­re­tarygen­eral and is com­pletely in­de­pen­dent in func­tions.”

Prime Min­is­ter Gas­ton Browne told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Tues­day that the gov­ern­ment of the eastern Caribbean state of An­tigua and Bar­buda would fully co­op­er­ate with U.S. author­i­ties. The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment em­ployed Ashe.

“This has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the coun­try. You’re talk­ing about an in­ter­na­tional plat­form for peace and global se­cu­rity be­ing used for cor­rupt pur­poses,” Browne said.

Those charged in the crim­i­nal com­plaint un­sealed Tues­day in U.S. court in­cluded Ng, who was ar­rested two weeks ago along with his chief as­sis­tant, Jeff C. Yin, 29, a U.S. citizen whose bail was re­voked last week over al­le­ga­tions he lied to in­ves­ti­ga­tors af­ter his ar­rest.

Ng’s at­tor­ney, Alex Spiro, said in a state­ment that his client “com­mit­ted no crime.”

Lawyers for Yin and Lorenzo, 48, did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

U.S. Mag­is­trate Judge James Fran­cis set bail at US$1 mil­lion and or­dered elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing for Ashe af­ter re­ject­ing the gov­ern­ment’s re­quest that he be held with­out bail as a flight risk. Fran­cis noted that two tax charges carry a to­tal po­ten­tial max­i­mum penalty of six years in prison.

The pros­e­cu­tor said in court that Ashe made in­crim­i­nat­ing state­ments re­lated to the al­leged bribery scheme fol­low­ing his ar­rest and more se­ri­ous charges were pos­si­ble.

AP

In this Sept. 17, 2013 file photo, Am­bas­sador John Ashe, of An­tigua and Bar­buda, the pres­i­dent of the Gen­eral Assem­bly’s 68th ses­sion, speaks at United Na­tions head­quar­ters.

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