$2M bail set for diplomat charged in UN bribery case

AP News
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Posted: Oct 09, 2015 5:55 PM
$2M bail set for diplomat charged in UN bribery case

NEW YORK (AP) — Over a prosecutor's objection, bail was set at $2 million Friday for a Dominican Republic diplomat arrested in a bribe-related criminal case that also landed a former president of the United Nations General Assembly behind bars.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman noted that charges against Francis Lorenzo, though serious, did not involve violence, and he agreed Lorenzo could stay at his mother's Bronx home with electronic monitoring after agreeing to waive diplomatic immunity prior to trial. Lorenzo was unlikely to be released for several days yet.

Lorenzo was arrested Tuesday along with three others, including John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served in the largely ceremonial role of United Nations Assembly president for a year starting in September 2013. Ashe's lawyer has said Ashe expects to be vindicated on tax charges.

Prosecutors said the 48-year-old Lorenzo accepted and paid bribes to help a billionaire Chinese real estate mogul influence the United Nations to support construction of a multibillion dollar U.N. conference center in Macau.

The billionaire, Ng Lap Seng, 67, and his chief assistant remain jailed after their arrest two weeks ago. Ng's lawyer has said Ng was the victim of a misunderstanding.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal argued unsuccessfully Friday that Lorenzo, a U.S. citizen, was too powerful and well connected worldwide to trust he wouldn't make a run for it.

Richenthal also repeatedly said Lorenzo might use diplomatic immunity to dodge prosecution.

"There are significant ways he may frustrate the prosecution," Richenthal said. The prosecutor called diplomatic immunity a "complicated area of law" and a "knotty issue."

Richenthal said Ng has financed a $3.6 million luxury Manhattan apartment that Lorenzo has listed as his address and had helped fund a revenue stream that provided Lorenzo $30,000 monthly, enabling him to send hundreds of thousands of dollars to an account in the Dominican Republic.

Lorenzo's lawyer, Brian Bieber, offered testimony from three character witnesses, including Carlos Garcia of Union, New Jersey, a former ambassador to the United Nations from El Salvador who was a diplomat for nearly two decades.

"For me, he's a leader, promoting United Nations' status in the world," Garcia said.

Bieber said his client worked in the travel industry when he was invited in 2000 to a U.N. event, where he dined with actor Michael Douglas, boxer Muhammad Ali and then-U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The conversations inspired him to pursue a $6,000-a-month job as a Dominican Republic diplomat.

Since his arrest, Lorenzo has been suspended for six months as one of several ambassadors from the Central American nation, the lawyer said.

Outside court, Bieber said: "I am confident that when you see all of the evidence, it will be clear Mr. Lorenzo did not commit a federal crime."

Regardless, he added: "Diplomatic immunity very well may apply to some or all of Mr. Lorenzo's actions."