Fri, Jan 22, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Guilty plea in UN bribery case

PLANS AND SCHEMES:A UN official to Antigua, who allegedly accepted more than US$1.3 million in bribes, might be protected from charges by diplomatic immunity

Reuters, NEW YORK

Former Global Sustainability Foundation head Sheri Yan, left, leaves US federal court in New York City on Wednesday.

Photo: AP

The head of a New York-based foundation on Wednesday pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to bribe a former UN General Assembly president to advance various business interests, becoming the second defendant to admit wrongdoing in the case.

Former Global Sustainability Foundation chief executive Sheri Yan, who also is known as Yan Shiwei (嚴雪瑞), pleaded guilty in US federal court in Manhattan to one count of bribery in connection with illicit payments made to John Ashe, the former UN General Assembly president.

Choking back tears, Yan admitted that beginning in 2012, she agreed with others to pay money to Ashe, who was also the UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, to influence officials in Antigua and the UN to support business interests.

“While I was doing these things, I knew that they were wrong,” Yan said through a Mandarin interpreter.

The plea by Yan, 60, a US citizen, comes less than a week after the former finance director at the foundation, Heidi Hong Piao, (朴海蒂) pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with authorities in their continuing investigation.

Both women were arrested in October last year by the FBI as prosecutors unveiled charges over a multi-year scheme to pay more than US$1.3 million in bribes to Ashe.

Unlike Piao, though, Yan’s plea came without any agreement to cooperate with authorities. Under a plea agreement Yan agreed not to appeal any sentence of seven-and-one-quarter years in prison. Her sentencing is set for April 29.

Prosecutors allege that Ashe, the General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, accepted US$1.3 million of bribes from Chinese businessmen to support their interests within the UN and Antigua.

Those bribes included more than US$800,000 from three businessmen that were arranged through Yan and Piao, prosecutors said.

In court, Yan said she and others paid Ashe to persuade officials in Antigua to enter into contracts with foreign companies, and to use his UN position help her and others promote business ventures from which we intended to profit.

Prosecutors have also charged Ng Lap Seng (吳立勝), a billionaire developer from Macau who allegedly paid US$500,000 in bribes to Ashe through intermediaries.

Those intermediaries included Francis Lorenzo, a now-suspended deputy UN ambassador from the Dominican Republic, and Jeff Yin, Ng’s assistant, prosecutors said.

Ashe, Lorenzo, Ng and Yin have pleaded not guilty.

Ashe, 61, has only been charged with tax fraud, as prosecutors have said diplomatic immunity might preclude any bribery charges, but prosecutors have said they were examining the issue and likely would bring further charges.

A lawyer for Ashe did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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