‘Welcome to the Club ‘ — Ashe left the office in good hands with Kutesa last year
The former President of the United Nations General Assembly John Ashe was arrested on $1.3 million corruption charges by U.S. authorities as part of an ongoing investigation of the world body.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York wouldn’t comment on whether the continuing probe also covers the $30 million in possibly fraudulent billings to the UN through a private company belonging to the most-recently departed president of the UN General Assembly, Uganda’s Sam Kutesa.
Ashe was UN General Assembly President from 2013 to 2014, and was Antigua’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Kutesa assumed the post in June 2014; his term expired in September 2015 when Denmark’s Mogens Lyketoft assumed the ceremonial but high-profile position.
Ashe is charged by the U.S. with using his position as General Assembly President to try to influence the United Nation’s Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon into giving his blessing to the construction of a convention center in Macau by a wealthy Chinese businessman, Ng Lap Seng. In return he was paid $500,000.
Separately he is charged with accepting $800,000 to succor favors with the UN and with the government of Antigua for the Chinese businessman, Ng, whose fortune is estimated at $1.8 billion largely in Macau construction projects.
Ashe is also alleged to have transferred at least $100,000 in bribe payments to then prime minister of Antigua; the then premier isn’t named in the charges by the U.S. Attorney but the office at the time was occupied by Baldwin Spencer.
Ash also asked for a $30,000 basketball court to be built in his U.S. home in Dobbs Ferry, and had a private vacation for his family paid for, the U.S alleges. Additionally, his wife was made a “climate change consultant” and paid $2,500 per month, according to the charges.
In addition to Ng Lap Seng the billionaire businessman, also arrested and charged with Ashe are four others who served as intermediaries between Ng and Ashe: Francis Lorenzo, Deputy UN Ambassador for the Dominican Republic; Jeff C. Yin a.k.a Yin Chuan; Shiwei Yan a.k.a Sheri Yan; and, Heidi Hong Piao a.k.a Heidi Park.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who heads the Southern District of New York and has handled several high-profile cases in recent years.
“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. United in greed, the defendants allegedly formed a corrupt alliance of business and government, converting the UN into a platform for profit. We will continue to do everything we can to root out public corruption – whether we find it in a city council, in Albany, or as here, in the United Nations,” Bharara said.
The FBI assistant director-In-charge of the investigations, Diego Rodriguez added, “The charges announced today are sending a message to those who come to the United States from other countries with corruption plans or bags full of cash – no one is above or beyond the law. Investigating public corruption remains a top priority for the FBI.”
“IRS-Criminal Investigation is committed to ensuring that everyone pays their fair share of taxes, regardless of an individual’s position, wealth or prominence,” added Internal Revenue Services (IRS) acting special sgent-in-charge Thomas E. Bishop. “Everyone is expected to report all of their income, even if the income comes from an illegal source, including bribes. We are always ready to partner with the United States Attorney’s and the FBI on investigations involving allegations of misuse of positions of public trust and their impact on tax compliance.”
According to the U.S. Attorney Ashe was “charged with tax fraud for failure to report or pay income taxes on the over $1 million he received in bribes in 2013 and 2014.” Tax fraud is not covered by any diplomatic immunity that Ashe may enjoy.
The five others — Lorenzo, Ng, Yin, Yan and Piao — are charged with multiple bribery-related counts.
On September 19, 2015, Ng and Yin had been previously arrested based on a separate complaint for allegedly making false statements to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers about the true purpose of approximately $4.5 million in cash that they had brought into the U.S. from China since 2013.
“Ashe solicited and took the bribes at the time when he served as UN Ambassador for Antigua and as the 68th President of the UN General Assembly,” the U.S. Attorney said. “The bribes were facilitated by Lorenzo, Ng, Yin, Yan, and Piao, among others, who arranged for the transmission and laundering of over $1 million of bribery money from sources in China.”
Mr. Ng, the billionaire wanted to build a UN-sponsored conference center in Macau, China, called the UN Macau Conference Center, and he used Ambassador Lorenzo and Yin to pay $500,000 in bribes to Ambassador Ashe. In return, according to the U.S. Attorney, the then-President of the General Assembly “submitted a UN document to the UN Secretary General, which claimed that there was a purported need to build the UN Macau Conference Center.”
Some of the payments were made allegedly to third parties to cover Ashe’s personal expenses. He allegedly used bribe payments for “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.”
Ashe allegedly underreported his income to the IRS by more than $1.2 million in 2013 and in 2014. He also allegedly opened an account under the President of the General Assembly name and then used the funds for his personal expenses.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General today was quoted saying Ban Ki-Moon was “shocked and deeply troubled” by the allegations. The U.N. had not previously been informed of the investigation but would cooperate if contacted, she said.
Ashe’s successor as UN General Assembly President was Uganda’s foreign affairs minister Kutesa. He survived a petition campaign signed by 15,822 people opposing his nomination due to his support for Uganda’s harsh anti-LGBT law.
Kutesa in the past has been linked to several high-profile corruption allegations including embezzlement of millions of dollars in public funds allocated for hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and kickbacks from a foreign oil company seeking concessions. A U.S. ambassador said his corruption was “egregious” in a cable leaked by Wikileaks and recommended that Washington revoke his visa.
The Black Star News previously reported that Kutesa’s private company, Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS), had been paid at least $29.2 million by the UN between 2008 to 2013 for handling cargo and luggage at Entebbe airport in Uganda and in Congo and South Sudan for UN peace keeping operations. During that period Kutesa was Uganda’s foreign affairs minister, a position he still holds.
The UN declined to say whether Kutesa had revealed, or whether the world body knew, he was an ENHAS owner when his company was awarded the contracts.
“We would not comment on that,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney said today with respect to whether the ongoing investigation into the UN will cover the ENHAS billings.
When The Black Star News brought the matter of the ENHAS payments to the attention of Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s office last year and the to United Nations General Counsel, the invoices detailing the payments which were at the time available on the U.N.’s website were all deleted. The Black Star News recorded all the invoice numbers and tabulated the amounts paid on them over the six-year period before they were deleted.
Farhan Haq, a spokesperson for the UN previously wouldn’t confirm or deny whether Ban Ki-Moon authorized the deletions. He also wouldn’t say whether ENHAS still has contracts with the UN. The spokesperson also wouldn’t say whether the ENHAS payments were made through an American bank or U.S. account.
The spokesperson didn’t respond to an e-mail message today seeking comment. When The Black Star News made its initial inquiry last year, the spokesperson in an email message said the UN had no contracts with ENHAS.
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Note: This is an updated version of the original article