Ex-U.N. General Assembly president, five others charged in U.S. in bribe scheme

John Ashe walks at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial after paying flower tribute at Rajghat in New Delhi in this March 21, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

John Ashe walks at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial after paying flower tribute at Rajghat in New Delhi in this March 21, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/Files

U.S. authorities charged a former president of the United Nations General Assembly, a billionaire Macau real estate developer and four others on Tuesday for engaging in a wide-ranging corruption scheme.

John Ashe, the U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who was president in 2013, was accused in a complaint filed in federal court in New York of taking more than $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen, including developer Ng Lap Seng.

The complaint said Ng, through intermediaries, paid Ashe more than $500,000. In exchange, Ashe told the U.N. secretary general that a yet-to-be built multibillion-dollar U.N.-sponsored conference center in Macau was needed.

The intermediaries included Ng’s assistant, Jeff Yin, and Francis Lorenzo, who had been a deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic.

Yin, 29, was arrested with Ng, 68, last month on separate charges.

Yin told FBI agents after the arrest that his boss viewed the conference center as his legacy and had made payments to obtain action from the United Nations on it, the complaint said.

Ashe, 61, also received more than $800,000 of bribes from Chinese businessmen to support their interests within the U.N. and Antigua, and kicked some of the money to Antigua’s prime minister at the time, the complaint said.

The complaint said those bribes were arranged through Shiwei Yan, 57, chief executive officer of a New York-based non-profit, and Heidi Hong Piao, 52, its finance director.

The non-profit was not identified but matches the description of the Global Sustainability Foundation. And while the complaint did not name the prime minister, Baldwin Spencer held the post at the time.

The foundation, the prime minister’s office, and Antigua and Barbuda’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Spencer could not immediately be reached.

The complaint said Ashe deposited more than $3 million from foreign governments and officials in accounts at two major American banks from 2012 to 2014.

It said he transferred some money to his wife’s bank accounts and spent other sums on his home mortgage in Dobbs Ferry, New York; BMW lease payments; and Rolex watches.

The charges will be discussed at a press conference by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara later on Tuesday.

Bieber Brian, Lorenzo’s lawyer, said 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.” Ng’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, said his client committed no crime.

Lawyers for the other defendants arrested Tuesday could not be immediately identified. Yin’s lawyer had no immediate comment.

The case followed the Sept. 19 arrest of Ng and Yin for falsely claiming that $4.5 million they brought into the United States from China from 2013 to 2015 was meant for gambling or buying art, antiques or real estate.

U.S. prosecutors have said Ng has a fortune of $1.8 billion, much of which he earned on developments in Macau. He sits on the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an adviser to the government.

Ng heads the privately held Sun Kian Ip Group in Macau, whose foundation arm lists several ambassadors to the U.N., including Ashe, as holding leadership positions.

The U.N. general assembly presidency is a ceremonial one-year post paid for by the home country. The complaint only charged Ashe with tax offenses, possibly because he may have diplomatic immunity for any conduct taken in his official capacity.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond and Joseph Ax in New York; Additional reporting by Jon Stempel, Michelle Nichols and Louis Charbonneau in New York and Farah Master in Hong Kong; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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