New York: In an embarrassing turn of events for the United Nations, former General Assembly president John Ashe was arrested and charged on Tuesday with accepting more than USD 1.3-million bribe from businesspeople in China in exchange for help to Chinese businesses obtain lucrative contracts.
Ashe, 61, who had served as the 68th UNGA President, was arrested here and is among six people arrested in the case.
He along with Deputy UN Ambassador for the Dominican Republic Francis Lorenzo, Ng Lap Seng, Jeff Yin, Shiwei Yan and Heidi Hong Piao were charged in connection with a multi-year scheme to pay more than USD 1.3 million in bribes to Ashe in exchange for official actions in his capacity as UNGA President and Antiguan government official in support of Chinese business interests.
US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, in announcing the charges, said if proven, the charges will confirm that the "cancer of corruption" plagues too many local and state governments and has infected the United Nations as well.
"As alleged, for Rolexes, bespoke suits, and a private basketball court, John Ashe, the 68th President of the UN General Assembly, sold himself and the global institution he led," Bharara said.
He said the defendants were "united in greed" and allegedly formed a corrupt nexus of business and government, converting the UN into a platform for profit.
According to the allegations, Ashe has been soliciting and accepting bribes since approximately 2011 from various businesspeople in China seeking to influence the actions of the UN and officials in Ashe's home country of Antigua.
He solicited and took the bribes at the time when he served as UN Ambassador for Antigua and as the 68th President of the UNGA.
The bribes were facilitated by the other defendants who arranged for the transmission and laundering of over USD 1 million of bribery money from sources in China.
In exchange for the bribes, Ashe agreed to and did perform official actions for businesspeople who were seeking benefits from the UN and Antigua.
On one occasion, he accepted over USD 500,000 of bribes facilitated by Lorenzo and Yin from Ng, who was seeking to build a multibillion-dollar, UN-sponsored conference center in Macau, China.
In exchange for these payments, Ashe submitted a UN document to the UN Secretary-General, which claimed that there was a purported need to build the UN Macau Conference Centre.
In addition, Ashe received over USD 800,000 in bribes from various Chinese businessmen arranged through Yan and Piao and, in return for these bribes, Ashe advocated for these businessmen's interests within the UN and with senior Antiguan government officials, including the country's then-Prime Minister, with whom Ashe shared a portion of the bribe payments.
During the course of the scheme, Ashe solicited and
received bribes in various forms, including cash and payments to third parties to cover his personal expenses, such as a family vacation and construction of a private basketball court at his house in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
He also transferred the bribery money to his personal bank accounts, primarily through checks he wrote to himself for a purported "salary."
He then used the bribe money for his personal expenses, such as paying the mortgage on his house in Dobbs Ferry, making his BMW lease payments, and buying luxury items such as Rolex watches and custom suits.
During the same period of time, he failed to report sufficient income to the Internal Revenue Service to account for the self-described salary and other bribes he received.
In total, he underreported his income to the IRS by more than USD 1.2 million in tax years 2013 and 2014 alone.
Lorenzo also arranged for Ashe to travel to Macau with other UN officials to meet with NG in exchange for a USD 200,000 payment from NG to an account that Ashe had set up in the name of the President of the General Assembly, his role at the time.
Prior to agreeing to the trip, Ashe told Lorenzo: "Even though NG has made a lot of empty promises in the past, I am willing to travel to Macau to see his project, since it is important to him.
"But it has to [be] made absolutely clear to him that I will not go unless I see the funds - funds which are NOT for my personal use but to help run the PGA office. Period.
"Please let them know that I am requesting somewhere between USD 100K and USD 250K."
Although Ashe claimed the funds would not be used by him personally, he transferred the vast majority of funds to his personal account with his wife and used them to pay for personal expenses.
Ashe is charged with two counts of subscribing to false and fraudulent US individual income tax returns and each of these counts carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
The others are each charged with bribery conspiracy and bribery.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and the bribery charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.