UNITED NATIONS - A former United Nations General Assembly president was arrested in New York and charged with accepting over a million dollars in bribes and committing tax fraud in a multi-year scheme to promote the interests of a Chinese businessman.
John Ashe, 61, was Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador to the U.N. from 2004 until his election as the president of the 68th session of the General Assembly in 2013. He was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in a New York City suburb, authorities said.
In a 37-page complaint, Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, detailed allegations against Ashe, including Ashe's acceptance of at least $1.3 million in bribes in 2013 and 2014 and his failure to pay U.S. taxes on them.
“As alleged, for Rolexes, bespoke suits and a private basketball court, John Ashe, the 68th president of the U.N. General Assembly, sold himself and the global institution he led,” Bharara told reporters at a news conference announcing the indictment.
Ashe is accused of taking the money from Ng Lap Seng, also known as David Ng, a billionaire Chinese businessman from Macau with real estate and gambling interests. Ng was arrested on September 15, 2015 on separate charges.
Prosecutors say Ng was seeking Ashe’s influence to promote the building of a multi-billion-dollar U.N. conference center in Macau. In June 2013, they allege that he submitted a document to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pressing for the conference center in Macau. The U.N. said a preliminary search for the document was fruitless.
“Although this case involves the high-flying world of billionaire business executives and influential U.N. officials, at its core, it was just a classic quid pro quo criminal scheme – bribes paid in exchange for official actions taken,” Bharara said.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters that the U.S. Attorney’s office did not inform the secretariat of the investigation, nor did the U.N. chief ever discuss Ng’s hoped for Macau conference center with Ashe.
“I think all of this was news to us when we read about it in the paper this morning,” he said. Dujarric added that the secretary-general was "shocked and deeply troubled" by the allegations, which he said "go to the heart of the integrity of the United Nations."
Authorities have charged Ashe and five others in the scheme, including Francis Lorenzo, who is the current deputy ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations, and four Chinese business associates of Ng.
It is alleged they funneled the bribes to Ashe through at least two non-governmental organizations. While not named in the complaint, they match the description of South-South News and the Global Sustainability Foundation. Lorenzo is president of South-South and Ashe is honorary chairman of the Global Sustainability Foundation.
Sheri Yan, who is also charged in the complaint, is the CEO of the Global Sustainability Foundation. According to the group’s website, another of their board members is Edith Gasana Kutesa – wife of Ashe’s successor as president of the U.N. General Assembly, Sam Kutesa.
Kutesa’s 2014 election as the 69th president of the General Assembly was shrouded in controversy over corruption allegations against him in his native Uganda.
The complaint also alleges Ashe shared some of his bribe money with Antigua's then-prime minister in a bid to support the Chinese group’s business interests in the Caribbean island nation.
The U.S. Attorney said the investigation is continuing.
“I’m not commenting on who may be in crosshairs, who may be arrested,” Bharara told reporters. “It’s early and we’re looking at a lot of things and I wouldn’t be surprised if you would see other people charged.”