Wednesday 21 February 2018

UN chief accused of taking $1m in China bribe scandal

Former UN ambassador: John Ashe
Former UN ambassador: John Ashe

Ruth Sherlock

A former president of the United Nations General Assembly was yesterday charged over allegations he accepted more than $1m in bribes from Chinese businessmen, including a billionaire property mogul.

John Ashe, a former UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who presided over the General Assembly from 2013 to 2014, was arrested yesterday at his home in Dobbs Ferry, New York State. He was accused by US prosecutors of turning the world body into a "platform for profit" by taking bribes in exchange for paving the way for lucrative investments.

In one case, Mr Ashe allegedly accepted more than $500,000 from Ng Lap Seng (68), a property developer who was seeking a contract to build a UN-sponsored conference centre in Macau. In exchange, prosecutors said, Mr Ashe recommended to the secretary-general that the multi-billion-dollar proposal go ahead.

In total, Mr Ashe is said to have accepted $1.3m (€1.15m) in bribes from various Chinese businessmen, which he used to line his own pockets and to curry favour from the then prime minister of Antigua.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, was "shocked and deeply troubled" by the allegations that "go to the heart and integrity of the UN," said Stephane Dujarric, his spokesman. But the UN had not found any documentation of the claims involving the Macau proposal, Mr Dujarric added.

US Attorney Preet Bharara told reporters: "We will be asking: is bribery business as usual at the UN?"

Prosecutors said that the deal was facilitated by Jeff Yin, Mr Ng's assistant, and Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy ambassador to the UN from the Dominican Republic, who has also been charged with offences related to bribery and conspiracy.

The charges follow the arrests last month of Mr Ng and his assistant after they allegedly lied to US customs officials about why they had brought $4.5m in cash into the country in a series of trips by private jet.

Mr Yin (29) reportedly told the FBI that his boss had made payments to obtain action from the UN.

Prosecutors say some of the bribe money paid for a trip to New Orleans for Mr Ashe, his wife and two children, including first-class air fares and an $850-a-night hotel room. Mr Ashe also allegedly used it to lease a luxury car, pay his home mortgage, buy Rolex watches and custom suits, and construct a $30,000 basketball court at his New York home. He opened two bank accounts to receive the funds and then under-reported his income by more than $1.2m, officials said.

Bieber Brian, a lawyer for Mr Lorenzo, said that his client "maintains that he acted in good faith at all times and believed in the integrity of what he was told by those involved".

Alex Spiro, a lawyer for Mr Ng, told the 'Wall Street Journal' that the legal team's position is that the businessman "committed no crime". US prosecutors say the tycoon has a fortune of $1.8bn.

Prosecutors said two other arrested individuals were involved with Mr Ng. They were identified as Sheri Yan and Heidi Park, both naturalised US citizens who reside in China and helped facilitate the scheme, prosecutors said.

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