World

UN-Focused News Outlet at Centre of Bribery Case Defends its Integrity

John Ashe, a former United Nations General Assembly president and UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, exits the Manhattan US District Courthouse in New York, December 10, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

John Ashe, a former United Nations General Assembly president and UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, exits the Manhattan US District Courthouse in New York, December 10, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

New York: A United Nations (UN)-focused news outlet whose UN accreditation has come under review after US prosecutors linked it to a scheme to bribe a former General Assembly president is striking back at its critics.

South-South News, which for six years has published articles related to the UN and development issues, in an open letter dated Monday April 18, 2016, posted on its website defended its reputation, which it said “has been tainted by some unscrupulous acts.”

“Many media and administrative professionals have proudly worked for South-South News and can attest to the integrity of our media operation,” South-South News said.

The letter came a month after Francis Lorenzo, a suspended deputy UN ambassador from the Dominican Republic and South-South News‘ former president, pleaded guilty to participating in the bribery scheme.

He is one of seven people charged since October 2015 for engaging in a scheme to pay 1.3 million dollars in bribes to John Ashe, a former UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who was UN General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014.

Prosecutors alleged that Lorenzo facilitated bribe payments to Ashe from Ng Lap Seng, a billionaire real estate developer in Macau who authorities say funded South-South News and who was seeking to build a UN-sponsored conference centre in Macau.

Following Lorenzo’s plea and agreement to cooperate with prosecutors, authorities last month arrested Julia Vivi Wang, who had been the vice president of South-South News, in connection with the bribery investigation.

While South-South News itself has not been charged in the case, prosecutors have alleged that it was used as a conduit for bribes.

The UN has in light of the charges been reviewing South-South News‘ accreditation status, a process Stephane Dujarric, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, on April 18 told reporters was still ongoing.

In its open letter, South-South said it continues to operate normally and called Lorenzo’s actions “irresponsible and illegal.”

But it criticised as “unprofessional” the extent some journalists outside of its organisation were “attacking everything and anyone they believe is linked to this case,” affecting the work of many “innocent people.”

South-South News said that its employees “will defend our hard and honest work and we will defend the commitment to our goals and objectives of producing quality journalism to inform about these important issues.”

Brian Bieber, Lorenzo’s lawyer, in a statement said several comments in the letter were “inaccurate” as they related to Lorenzo, who has “accepted responsibility for his conduct.”

Representatives for Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting the case, had no immediate comment.

(Reuters)