World

Ex-UN General Assembly President in Plea Talks to Resolve Bribery Case

John Ashe, former United Nations General Assembly president and UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, arrives at the Manhattan US District Courthouse in New York, US, May 9, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

John Ashe, former United Nations General Assembly president and UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, arrives at the Manhattan US District Courthouse in New York, US, May 9, 2016. Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

New York: A former UN General Assembly president accused by US prosecutors of taking $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen is in plea talks to resolve his case, according to a court filing on May 18.

The talks involving John Ashe, a former UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served as General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, were disclosed in a letter filed in federal court in Manhattan by his lawyer.

Jeremy Schneider, Ashe’s lawyer, characterised the talks as ongoing in the letter. But he noted that prosecutors are considering bringing further charges, which could “seriously hinder the pre-trial plea negotiations.”

Schneider declined to elaborate in a brief interview but confirmed that plea talks were underway. A spokesman for Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting Ashe, declined comment.

Ashe, 61, is one of seven individuals charged since October 2015 in connection with the bribery scheme, which has also ensnared a billionaire real estate developer in Macau, Ng Lap Seng.

Prosecutors said Ng paid Ashe more than $500,000 through intermediaries to seek UN support of a United Nations-sponsored conference center in Macau that his company would develop.

The intermediaries included Francis Lorenzo, a suspended deputy UN ambassador from the Dominican Republic, and Jeff Yin, Ng’s assistant, prosecutors said.

Lorenzo pleaded guilty in March 2016. Ng and Yin have pleaded not guilty.

Ashe also received more than $800,000 from Chinese businessmen to support their interests within the UN and Antigua, prosecutors said.

Those bribes were arranged through Sheri Yan, who was the Global Sustainability Foundation’s chief executive, and Heidi Hong Piao, the non-governmental organisation’s finance director, prosecutors said. Both women pleaded guilty in January 2016.

To date, Ashe has only been charged with tax fraud in connection with the bribes, amid questions about whether diplomatic immunity may preclude any bribery charges.

But at a May 9 hearing, Assistant US Attorney Daniel Richenthal said prosecutors were planning to seek a new indictment in the case against Ashe.

(Reuters)