UN rejects $15 million offer from foundation under scrutiny

AP News
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Posted: Oct 09, 2015 8:15 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A U.N. office says it is rejecting the remainder of a $15 million offer from a foundation now under scrutiny after its leader, vetted and approved by the office earlier this year, was arrested and accused in an alleged bribery scheme.

The director of the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation told The Association Press in an interview Friday that his office was "not pursuing" the offer made by the Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation this year.

In April, the office sent a team to Macau to do due diligence on the foundation and found it suitable, director Jorge Chediek said. "In the future, we'll be very thorough," he said.

The case has raised questions about the money the U.N. and its key players accept from outside entities and how donations and partners are vetted. A separate U.N. office, Global Compact, says it expelled the Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation on April 9 because it had failed to report its activities for two straight years.

The foundation's leader, Macau billionaire Ng Lap Seng, is accused of lying about plans for $4.5 million in cash brought into the U.S. over several years aboard private jets. Also accused in the alleged scheme is former U.N. General Assembly President John Ashe, who the U.S. criminal complaint says took over $1 million in bribes from Ng and others to pave the way for lucrative investments.

Prosecutors say Ng wanted to build a multibillion-dollar U.N.-sponsored conference center in Macau as a sort of satellite operation for the world body.

Chediek said his office is conducting an internal review of "all details of relationships" with the Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation and with the Global Sustainability Foundation, whose leader, Sheri Yan, is also accused in the alleged scheme. Yan was an adviser to Ashe during his presidency from September 2013 to September 2014.

The internal review is in addition to an audit that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ordered Thursday into the two foundations and their contacts with the U.N.

The U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation promotes cooperation between developing countries, including China. Chediek, who became director after Zhou Yiping retired last month, said his office has not been contacted by U.S. authorities about the case.

In a statement earlier this week, the office said it had received $1.5 million from the Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation in May and had used it, along with funding from a variety of sources, to organize conferences in Bangladesh in May and in Macau in August.

On Friday, Chediek said the foundation's $15 million offer was "never operational" beyond the $1.5 million his office used. He said all of the $1.5 million had been accounted for, with no evidence found of misuse.

He said there was no institutional relationship between his office and the Global Sustainability Foundation, "but we are reviewing our whole partnership strategy."

Ashe is also listed as chairman of an organization called the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development. Another organization called the International Organization for South-South Cooperation lists as president Francis Lorenzo, a deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic who also has been charged in the alleged bribery scheme.

Both organizations feature logos similar to the U.N. one. Neither has been announced as a target for any U.N. investigation. Chediek, acknowledging the confusion, stressed that the term "South-South" has not been copyrighted.

But he suggested "maybe raising the independent profile" of his office in the future.