NEW YORK (AP) — A Chinese businesswoman pleaded guilty on Thursday in a bribery case accusing a former president of the United Nations General Assembly of accepting more than $1 million from sources in China to use his position to promote various business interests.
Heidi Piao told a judge in federal court in Manhattan that she and others arranged secret payments "with the intent of influencing John Ashe in his official capacity."
The plea was part of a cooperation agreement that could require Piao to testify against Ashe, a former ambassador to the United Nations from Antigua and Barbuda, and earn her leniency on bribery, money laundering and other charges that carry a combined maximum penalty of 60 years in prison.
Paio, a 52-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen was charged last year along with Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, Ashe and others in a case U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said could show that "the cancer of corruption that plagues too many local and state governments infects the United Nations as well."
Court papers accuse Ashe of taking $200,000 from Piao and another defendant in exchange for attending and speaking in his official capacity at a private conference in China hosted by a real estate developer. In addition, Ashe also agreed to promote a $20 million deal for an unnamed company to install a "national internet security system" for Antigua, the court papers say.
The government's papers also accuse Ashe, 61, of using the bribes to support a lavish lifestyle, spending $59,000 on hand-tailored suits in Hong Kong, $54,000 for two Rolex watches and $40,000 to lease a new BMW X5. He also bought a membership at a South Carolina country club for $69,000, and built a $30,000 basketball court at his home in Dobbs Ferry, New York, according to the papers.
Ng has been accused of bribing Ashe to support a multibillion-dollar U.N.-sponsored conference center that Ng hoped to build as his legacy in Macau, where he lived. Also charged was Francis Lorenzo, a deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic, who prosecutors say was paid tens of thousands of dollars a month by Ng's organizations to support the Macau project.
All three men have pleaded not guilty and are out on bail. Their lawyers have said they are fighting the charges and will be vindicated.