Chinese-born executive pleads guilty in UN bribery case

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A Chinese-born executive has pleaded guilty in New York to three criminal counts in connection with a US bribery probe involving a former UN General Assembly president.

Julia Vivi Wang admitted to bribery and conspiracy charges, both in violation of the federal Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and to submitting fraudulent income tax returns.

Wang, 57, also entered a plea agreement under which she is expected to cooperate with prosecutors.

The defendant entered her plea before US District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan federal court.

She faces up to five years in prison on each FCPA count. A sentencing date has not been set. Her lawyer declined to comment.

Wang is among several people charged by US prosecutors since 2015 over alleged influence-peddling linked to the United Nations.

One defendant, billionaire Macau developer Ng Lap Seng, was found guilty last July by a Manhattan jury on bribery charges.

Wang, a naturalised US citizen, had been vice president of South-South News, a UN-focused media group, and an organisation with the stated mission of promoting UN development goals and sustainable development.

Both were led by Francis Lorenzo, a former deputy UN ambassador from the Dominican Republic. Prosecutors have said Ng founded South-South News and used it as a bribery conduit.

In March 2016, prosecutors filed a complaint accusing Wang and her late husband of having told Lorenzo they wanted to buy diplomatic posts, such as consol or envoy, with Antigua's government because they viewed it as a "business opportunity".

Wang admitted on Wednesday (April 4) to having in April 2013 wired US$500,000 that had been solicited by John Ashe, a former UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who was also General Assembly president, to win one such post.

She also admitted to having failed to report about US$2 million of income in total for the 2010 to 2013 tax years.

Prosecutors have said Lorenzo understood from having spoken with Ashe that some of Wang's payment was meant for Antiguan officials including the prime minister, who was not identified.

Ashe died in an accident at his home in June 2016. Lorenzo pleaded guilty to bribery and money laundering charges. Prosecutors last week asked a judge to sentence Ng to more than six years in prison.