Sweeping United Nations bribery case keeps growing

Federal prosecutors on Tuesday announced additional charges of money laundering against a billionaire real estate developer from the Chinese territory of Macau Macau.

Jane Rosenberg/Reuters
Judge Henry Pitman (l.), attorney Brian Bieber (c.) and defendant Francis Lorenzo, Deputy UN Ambassador for the Dominican Republic are shown in this courtroom sketch at his bail hearing in New York October 9. 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.

A complex, sweeping bribery case involving a former president of the United Nations General Assembly took an additional twist on Tuesday. Federal prosecutors revealed additional charges of money laundering against a billionaire real estate developer from the Chinese territory of Macau and three others accused of turning the world body into a “platform for profit.”

John Ashe, a former UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served as the assembly’s president from September 2013 to September 2014 is accused of taking $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese real estate mogul Ng Lap Seng, who owns property in Macau.

Prosecutors say Mr. Ashe used his position at the UN to aid Mr. Ng in efforts to build a multibillion dollar conference center, where Ng lives, putting him in contact with government officials from Antigua, the Associated Press reported on Oct. 6, when the case against the two men and three other people accused of helping them was first unveiled.

The conference center was intended to function as a satellite operation of sorts for the General Assembly, according to prosecutors from US attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

When the case was first announced, the charges roiled the UN, with Mr. Bharara saying the case would examine whether bribery was “business as usual” at the storied body. Ashe was also accused of accepting a lavish trip to New Orleans from Ng, including an $850 a night hotel room.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon disputed that charge during a news conference on Oct. 6, saying Mr. Ban was “shocked and deeply troubled” by the allegations that “go to the heart and integrity of the UN.”

But, he said, “corruption is not business as usual at the UN,” noting that the General Assembly is a wholly independent body that doesn’t report to the Secretary-General. It is a mostly-ceremonial post, Reuters reports.

Now, charges filed in a federal court in Manhattan show, Ng faces two additional counts, including money laundering. His assistant, Jeff Yin and Francis Lorenzo, a now-suspended deputy UN ambassador to the Dominican Republic, also face additional charges and are accused of collaborating in the bribery scheme.

Ng's lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, who previously defended former International Monetary Fund head Dominque Strauss-Kahn in a 2011 sexual assault case that was eventually dismissed, told Reuters his client would be “vigorously defended.”

The prosecutor’s indictment adds two bribery counts against Sheri Yan, the former chief executive of Global Sustainability Foundation, who was accused of funneling $800,000 in bribes from three unidentified Chinese businessmen to Ashe.

Heidi Park, the foundation’s finance director, who was charged along with Ms. Yan, wasn’t named in the indictment. Prosecutors had more time to secure an indictment in her case after she was arrested, Reuters reports. Her lawyer declined to comment, and attorneys for the other people had no immediate comment.

But Ashe continues to face only two related charges in the case. Prosecutors have said those charges aren’t covered by his diplomatic immunity.

On Oct. 8, the UN launched an audit into the allegations that money flowed between Ng’s business, the Global Sustainability Foundation and Ashe. Secretary-General Moon, Mr. Dujarric said, “ is committed to ensuring that funds received from such private entities were handled properly according to relevant UN rules and regulations.”

All of the defendants were expected to appear in court Thursday on the grand jury’s charges, a spokeswoman for the US attorney’s said.

Ng, who is 68, was originally arrested on Sept. 19 with Mr. Yin. Prosecutors have argued he made false statements about why they brought $4.5 million into the United States from China.

He’s remained in custody since then, with a federal magistrate setting his bail at $50 million on Friday and placing him under house arrest. But after prosecutors argued he was a flight risk, the judge delayed his release until Thursday.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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