Former top UN official charged with taking bribes from Chinese businessmen

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon greets United Nations General Assembly President John Ashe (right) of Antigua and Barbuda in a Sept 24, 2013 file photo.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon greets United Nations General Assembly President John Ashe (right) of Antigua and Barbuda in a Sept 24, 2013 file photo. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - A former president of the UN General Assembly, John Ashe, has been charged with taking US$1.3 million (S$1.84 million) in bribes from Chinese businessmen, partly to push for a real estate project in Macau, court documents showed Tuesday.

Ashe, who served as president for a year from September 2013, allegedly took bribes in exchange for backing a proposed UN conference centre in Macau promoted by Chinese developer Ng Lap Seng.

Ng, a wealthy real estate mogul, was arrested and jailed in New York last month for smuggling more than US$4.5 million in cash into the United States over a two-year period.

A UN ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda, Ashe accepted bribes from Ng and four others from 2011 to December 2014, according to the documents from US attorney Preet Bharara from New York.

"Among other things, Ashe accepted over US$500,000" from Ng who was "seeking to build a multi-billion dollar, UN-sponsored conference centre in Macau", the complaint said.

In exchange for these payments from Ng, Ashe submitted a request to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "which claimed that there was a purported need to build the UN Macau Conference Centre". Ng and others used the letter from Ashe to promote the building of the centre which was to house a "Global Business Incubator" to foster South-South cooperation in the private sector.

Ashe also received US$800,000 in bribes from Chinese businessmen to advance their interests at the United Nations and with the Antigua government including with the prime minister who got a cut of the bribe money, the documents said.

Ashe, 61, who served as UN ambassador for Antigua until November 2014, also received payments to cover personal expenses such as family vacations and construction of a basketball court at his house in New York state.

The complaint cited Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy UN ambassador from the Dominican Republic, Shiwei Yan, Jeff Yin and Heidi Hong Piao as conspiring in the corruption scheme.

Together with Ng, they are accused of using a fake non-government organization to carry out the bribery scheme. Lorenzo, the NGO's honorary president, was paid a $20,000 salary.

The Dominican Republic's permanent representative's office at the UN said Lorenzo was employed there but not available to talk to the press.

Ashe was elected in June 2013 to the post of president of the General Assembly by the 193 member-states.

The bribery was alleged to have taken place between 2011 and 2014.