Ex-U.N. diplomat in bribe case likely faces more charges: U.S. prosecutor

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 26, 2015 1:13 PM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former United Nations General Assembly president accused of being part of a bribery scheme would likely face additional charges, a U.S. prosecutor said on Monday, as the diplomat prepared to be released from jail.

John Ashe, also a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, already faces two counts of tax fraud in an indictment filed in Manhattan federal court.

But prosecutors have not charged Ashe with bribery, despite their allegations that he took $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen, because of the possible diplomatic immunity he enjoys. Prosecutors say that immunity does not apply to the tax charges.

At a court hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Eckenberg said prosecutors were "looking carefully" at the immunity issue.

"It is likely if not quite likely there will be additional charges here," Eckenberg said. She said a decision would come as quickly as possible.

The prosecutor made the disclosure as U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick adjusted the conditions for Ashe, 61, to be released from jail on a $1 million bond and be placed under house arrest.

Ashe could be released later on Monday, three weeks after his Oct. 6 arrest. While prosecutors had objected, arguing Ashe could flee, Herve Gouraige, his lawyer, said he posed "little if any risk of flight."

Ashe, who served as General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, was among six people charged in the case.

Prosecutors said Ng Lap Seng, a billionaire Macau real estate developer, used intermediaries to pay Ashe more than $500,000 to seek U.N. support of a U.N.-sponsored conference center in the Chinese territory.

The intermediaries included Francis Lorenzo, a suspended deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic who prosecutors said also received bribes from Ng, and Jeff Yin, Ng's assistant, according to charging documents.

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

They said those payments were arranged through Sheri Yan, who had been chief executive of Global Sustainability Foundation, and Heidi Park, who was its finance director.

Five of the defendants pleaded not guilty on Thursday following their formal indictment by a federal grand jury. Park was not among those indicted, though she remains in custody and the deadline to indict her has not expired.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Grant McCool)