Judge skeptical of immunity argument by UN case defendant

AP News
Posted: Jan 21, 2016 7:23 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge seemed unimpressed Thursday with a U.S. citizen's claims to immunity in a United Nations bribery scandal because he was working as a diplomat for a foreign government.

U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick did not immediately rule on the fate of Francis Lorenzo after hearing arguments by lawyers. But he expressed skepticism that Lorenzo could be protected from prosecution of any crime merely because he was a deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic.

Prosecutors have charged Lorenzo, who lives in the Bronx, with being part of a conspiracy they say included the bribery of a former president of the U.N. General Assembly by Chinese businessmen, including a billionaire. Lorenzo has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

At Thursday's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rahul Mukhi said that if Lorenzo's argument was supported by the law, then he could commit any crime and escape prosecution without facing the prospect of deportation since he is a U.S. citizen. Mukhi said no nation would agree to such a scenario.

Meanwhile, prosecutors said they still were considering in the next month asking a grand jury to bring bribery and money laundering charges against John Ashe, a former diplomat from Antigua and Barbuda who served in the largely ceremonial post as head of the 193-nation assembly from September 2013 to September 2014. Ashe, who is free on bail, has pleaded not guilty to tax fraud charges brought against him in the fall.

Prosecutors say Ashe collected more than $1 million in bribes to build support within the United Nations for various projects, including a Macau conference center planned by Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng. Ng, who is free on bail but subject to 24-hour guards, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he was behind the majority of the bribes.