U.S. prosecutors in talks with finance director in U.N. bribe case

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 19, 2015 4:54 PM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors have disclosed that they are in talks that could lead to a plea deal with a New York-based foundation's finance director who was accused of participating in a scheme to bribe a former United Nations General Assembly president.

Heidi Park, who was the finance director at Global Sustainability Foundation, was charged in October along with five others, including John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda and onetime General Assembly president.

She was the lone defendant not later indicted Oct. 20 by a federal grand jury. Facing a deadline to secure an indictment, prosecutors recently sought an extension to Dec. 3, citing discussions "regarding a possible disposition of this case."

The request, made in a court filing by prosecutor Janis Echenberg, used language that is typically indicative of plea talks, though cases can sometimes also be resolved with deferred prosecution agreements or with charges being dropped.

Any plea deal could mark a major break for prosecutors in their continuing investigation in a bribery case that has rocked the United Nations.

A court order was filed last week approving the extension request, which has not been previously reported.

Both Michael Himmel, Park's lawyer, and a spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined comment on Thursday.

Prosecutors allege that Ashe, who served as U.N. General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, took more than $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen to support their interests within the U.N. and Antigua.

Those bribes included over $800,000 from three Chinese businessmen that were arranged through Sheri Yan, who had been Global Sustainability Foundation's chief executive, and Park, its finance director, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors have labeled those three unnamed Chinese businessmen co-conspirators.

Prosecutors have also brought charges against Ng Lap Seng, a developer from the Chinese territory Macau who has a net worth of $1.8 billion and who prosecutors say through intermediaries paid $500,000 in bribes to Ashe.

Those intermediaries included Francis Lorenzo, a now-suspended deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic, and Jeff Yin, Ng's assistant, prosecutors said.

Ashe, Lorenzo, Ng, Yin and Yan have pleaded not guilty.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby)