Ex-U.N. General Assembly president in plea talks in U.S. bribery case

Reuters News
Posted: May 18, 2016 11:48 AM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former United Nations General Assembly president accused by U.S. prosecutors of taking $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen is in plea talks to resolve his case, according to a court filing on Wednesday.

The talks involving John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served as General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, were disclosed in a letter filed in federal court in Manhattan by his lawyer.

Jeremy Schneider, Ashe's lawyer, characterized the talks as ongoing in the letter. But he noted that prosecutors are considering bringing further charges, which could "seriously hinder the pre-trial plea negotiations."

Schneider declined to elaborate in a brief interview but confirmed that plea talks were underway. A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting Ashe, declined comment.

Ashe, 61, is one of seven individuals charged since October in connection with the bribery scheme, which has also ensnared a billionaire real estate developer in Macau, Ng Lap Seng.

Prosecutors said Ng paid Ashe more than $500,000 through intermediaries to seek U.N. support of a United Nations-sponsored conference center in Macau that his company would develop.

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

Lorenzo pleaded guilty in March. Ng and Yin have pleaded not guilty.

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

Those bribes were arranged through Sheri Yan, who was the Global Sustainability Foundation's chief executive, and Heidi Hong Piao, the non-governmental organization's finance director, prosecutors said. Both women pleaded guilty in January.

To date, Ashe has only been charged with tax fraud in connection with the bribes, amid questions about whether diplomatic immunity may preclude any bribery charges.

But at a May 9 hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal said prosecutors were planning to seek a new indictment in the case against Ashe.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)