A former president of the United Nations General Assembly was arrested on Tuesday and charged with accepting over $1 million in bribes in exchange for political favors. Along with the former UN president, a deputy UN ambassador and several Chinese business people have also been arrested for their involvement in the bribery conspiracy.
Two years before assuming the office of president of the UN General Assembly, John Ashe served as UN Ambassador for Antigua in 2011. According to his indictment, Ashe allegedly began soliciting and accepting bribes from various Chinese businesspeople seeking to influence the actions of the UN and government officials in Antigua.
In the spring of 2011, Deputy UN Ambassador for the Dominican Republic Francis Lorenzo invited Ashe to fly to Macau, China, to meet with real estate developer Ng Lap Seng. Ashe agreed to meet Ng in Macau in exchange for Lorenzo buying Ashe and his family a trip to New Orleans, including first-class airline tickets and a luxury hotel suite. As Ashe continued soliciting bribes, including hand-tailored suits from Hong Kong, Rolex watches, a BMW X5, and a $30,000 basketball court at his home in Dobbs Ferry, New York, he arranged for Ng to obtain access to the then-Prime Minister of Antigua and other Antiguan officials to invest and acquire property in their country.
After Ng proposed to build a UN Conference Center in Macau, Lorenzo drafted a UN document in Ashe’s name requesting the UN Secretary General to endorse the development. In order to arrange another meeting with Ashe and other UN officials, Ng allegedly bribed Ashe with $200,000 that Ashe later transferred to his personal account.
From 2011 through 2014, Ashe reportedly solicited over $1.3 million in bribes in exchange for gaining access to UN and government officials. Even while serving as president of the UN General Assembly between September 2013 and September 2014, Ashe continued accepting bribes from Lorenzo and Chinese businesspeople Jeff Yin, Shiwei Yan, Heidi Hong Piao, and Ng.
“If proven, today’s charges will confirm that the cancer of corruption that plagues too many local and state governments infects the United Nations as well,” stated U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “As alleged, for Rolexes, bespoke suits, and a private basketball court, John Ashe, the 68th President of the UN General Assembly, sold himself and the global institution he led. United in greed, the defendants allegedly formed a corrupt alliance of business and government, converting the UN into a platform for profit. We will continue to do everything we can to root out public corruption – whether we find it in a city council, in Albany, or as here, in the United Nations.”
On September 19, Ng and his assistant, Jeff Yin, were arrested by customs officials in New York and charged with bringing $4.5 million into the U.S. under false pretenses. On Tuesday, Ashe was arrested at his home in Dobbs Ferry, while Lorenzo, Yan, and Piao were arrested in New York City.
Ashe has been charged with two counts of tax fraud with each of count carrying a maximum penalty of three years in prison. Lorenzo, Ng, Yin, Yan, and Piao have been charged with bribery conspiracy and bribery, which carry a maximum sentence of five years and 10 years in prison respectively. Yan and Piao have also been charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years.
During a press conference on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Bharara cryptically forewarned, “We’re looking at a lot of things and I wouldn’t be surprised if you would see other people charged.”