A former president of the United Nations General Assembly is accused of accepting more than $1 million in bribes as part of a yearslong corruption scheme that was detailed by federal authorities on Tuesday. John Ashe, who also served as U.N. ambassador for Antigua and Barbados, is one of six people implicated in a 37-page criminal complaint released Tuesday by authorities. The complaint alleges that individuals acting on behalf of businesses in China paid Ashe to use his role to support dealings involving Antigua and the United Nations. The alleged bribes included $500,000 to back a proposed multi-billion-dollar conference center in Macau. The alleged payments were largely coordinated by another defendant in the case, Deputy U.N. Ambassador for the Dominican Republic Francis Lorenzo, according to the complaint. Authorities also allege that Ashe and his family used the bribes to pay for opulent personal expenses, including luxury vacations, Rolex watches, $59,000 in custom-tailored suits, and the construction of a $30,000 basketball court at his Dobbs Ferry, NY, home.
As we investigate further, we will be asking the question, 'Is bribery business as usual at the U.N.?'
Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney
Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, called the ongoing relationship between Ashe and the other defendants a "classic quid-pro-quo scheme." "If proven, today's charges will confirm that the cancer of corruption that plagues too many local and state governments infects the United Nations as well," Bharara said at a press conference on Tuesday. "As alleged, for Rolexes, bespoke suits, and a private basketball court, John Ashe, the 68th president of the U.N. General Assembly, sold himself and the global institution he led." In addition to cash and services, the co-conspirators allegedly created other avenues of income for the Ashe family, including a "climate-change consultant" job for his wife that paid $2,500 a month. The complaint charges that Ashe failed to report the income he took in as part of the scheme. The dealings allegedly took place from 2011 to 2014, a period that covers the time Ashe served as president of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2013. Ashe, who was arrested Tuesday, is accused of failing to report more than $1 million in income he earned through the payments in his taxes.
For Rolexes, bespoke suits, and a private basketball court, John Ashe...sold himself and the global institution he led.
Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York
In addition to Lorenzo, four individuals — David Ng, Yin Chaun, Sheri Yan, and Heidi Park — with ties to Chinese businesspeople are charged with bribery-related counts. Bharara said the investigation into the corruption scheme is continuing, but he declined to comment further on other individuals who might be involved, or whether U.N. officials have cooperated with the probe. "As we investigate further, we will be asking the question, 'Is bribery business as usual at the U.N.?'" Bharara said.
Stéphane Dujarric, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said during a midday press briefing that the secretary-general “was shocked and deeply troubled to learn this morning of the allegations…which go to the heart of the integrity of the United Nations.” Current UNGA President Mogens Lykketoft is expected to hold a press conference on the matter later today, Dujarric said. Attorney information for Ashe and the other defendants was not immediately available.