2nd defendant, US citizen, pleads guilty in UN bribery case

AP News
Posted: Jan 20, 2016 7:12 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A U.S. citizen on Wednesday became the second person to plead guilty in connection with a bribery scandal at the United Nations, tearfully admitting that she bribed a former president of the U.N. General Assembly to gain his support for business ventures.

Sheri Yan, 60, entered the plea to a bribery charge in Manhattan federal court in a deal with prosecutors that recommended she be sentenced to between roughly six and seven years in prison. The charge carries a maximum potential penalty of 10 years in prison. Her lawyers said she was not cooperating. Judge Vernon Broderick set sentencing for April 29.

Yan, speaking through a Mandarin interpreter, wiped away tears several times during the plea hearing as she admitted that she agreed with others to pay bribes to John Ashe so he could use his position as president of the U.N. General Assembly and as an ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda to promote business ventures from which Yan and others could profit.

Defense attorney Christine Chung rested her hand on Yan's back as Yan described her crime by reading from a prepared statement. Earlier, Yan said her formal education ended in the first year of junior high school.

Ashe, who served in the largely ceremonial post as head of the 193-nation assembly from September 2013 to September 2014, has pleaded not guilty to tax fraud charges and is free on bail.

There was no mention at the hearing of Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, who is charged with funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to Ashe to gain his support for a Macau conference center that authorities say Ng hoped would be his legacy. Ng has pleaded not guilty and has asked for a speedy trial, saying his businesses are being damaged.

Authorities say Yan and a co-defendant had arranged for more than $800,000 in payments to Ashe in exchange for official favors by Ashe and other Antiguan officials for various Chinese businessmen.

The initial payment Yan helped to arrange was $300,000 on behalf of a Chinese media executive, prosecutors have said. In court papers, the government said Ashe went to Antigua to meet with key decision makers to discuss the media executive's plans after Ashe received the $300,000 payment. Prosecutors say financial records reflect that Ashe sent $100,000 of the bribe to Antigua's prime minister and more funds to other Antiguan political interests.

According to court papers, Yan began paying Ashe $20,000 monthly in August 2013 to be honorary chairman of a New York-based non-governmental organization whose chief executive officer was Yan. The organization, prosecutors said, was purportedly formed to promote the U.N.'s sustainable development goals.

As part of her plea, Yan agreed to forfeit $300,000.

Yan's plea comes a week after a Chinese businesswoman pleaded guilty in the case, agreeing to testify if necessary against others.

At a hearing scheduled for Thursday, lawyers for Francis Lorenzo, a deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic who lives in the Bronx, plan to argue that he is entitled to diplomatic immunity. Lorenzo has pleaded not guilty to charges and is free on bail.