L-to-R, Mr. John W. Ashe of Antigua and Barbuda, and then President of the General Assembly’s sixty-eighth session, pose with Holocaust survivor Ms Rena Finder, and Mr. Steven Spielberg, in a photo-op, Monday January 27, 2014, at the United Nations Headquarters, New York, before the start of the Memorial Ceremony, to mark the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust on the theme “Journey through the Holocaust.” (NAN File Photo: Hayden Roger Celestin)
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Weds. Oct. 7, 2015: The Caribbean-born former United Nations General Assembly President was late yesterday set a $1 million bond and asked to surrender his travel documents after being arrested and slapped with tax fraud and receiving bribes in a case that also implicates former Antigua & Barbuda Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer. Here’s the fast facts on the case:
1: John W. Ashe, Antigua & Barbuda’s ambassador to the UN was arrested at his Dobbs Ferry, NY home and charged by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Tuesday. He appeared before federal magistrate judge, James C. Francis IV yesterday afternoon.
Judge Francis set a whopping $1 million bond and said he would be subject to home detention and electronic monitoring, and must surrender his travel documents. It was unclear how quickly Ashe could post bail.
2: Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Ashe, 61, is charged with two counts of subscribing to false and fraudulent U.S. individual income tax returns and receiving brides.
He is 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. Each of these counts carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison.
3: Since approximately 2011, Ashe, according to the indictment, has been soliciting and accepting bribes from various businesspeople in China seeking to influence the actions of the UN and officials in his home country of Antigua.
Ashe allegedly 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.
4: The bribes were facilitated by Deputy UN Ambassador for the Dominican Republic Francis Lorenzo, Ng Lap Seng, a/k/a “David Ng,” Jeff C. Yin, a/k/a “Yin Chuan,” Shiwei Yan, a/k/a “Sheri Yan,” and Heidi Hong Piao, a/k/a “Heidi Park,” who were also charged in connection with a multi-year scheme to pay more than $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.
5: It is alleged that they arranged for the transmission and laundering of over $1 million of bribery money from sources in China. In exchange for the bribes, Ashe allegedly agreed to and did perform official actions for businesspeople who were seeking benefits from the UN and Antigua.
6: Among other things, Ashe allegedly accepted over $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 (the “UN Macau Conference Center”).
In exchange for these payments from Ng, among other actions, Ashe reportedly submitted a UN document to the UN Secretary General, which claimed that there was a purported need to build the UN Macau Conference Center.
7: In addition, Ashe allegedly received over $800,000 in bribes from various Chinese businessmen arranged through Yan and Piao and, in return for these bribes, Ashe purportedly advocated for these businessmen’s interests within the UN and with senior Antiguan government officials, including the country’s then-Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, with whom Ashe allegedly shared a portion of the bribe payments.
During the course of the scheme, Ashe is also accused of soliciting and receiving 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.
8: He also supposedly transferred the bribery money to his personal bank accounts, primarily through checks he wrote to himself for a purported “salary” – although he already collected a salary from the Government of Antigua.
Ashe then allegedly 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.
9: During the same period of time, the US government said Ashe failed to report sufficient income to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) to account for the self-described salary and other bribes he allegedly received.
In total, Ashe underreported his income to the IRS by more than $1.2 million in tax years 2013 and 2014 alone, the complaint says.
10: As alleged in the complaint, the scheme began in or about the spring of 2011, when Ashe was approached by Lorenzo, the Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN for the Dominican Republic.
Since in or about 2010, in addition to being the Dominican Republic’s representative to the UN, Lorenzo has also been the “Honorary President” of a New York-based non-governmental organization created by Ng (“NGO-1”), which purportedly is a “21st century media platform” whose mission is to advance the implementation of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
In the spring of 2011, Lorenzo according to the complaint invited Ashe to fly to Macau, China, to meet with Ng.
11: As alleged in the complaint, Ng was interested in bribing Ashe in order to acquire business interests in Antigua and to obtain UN support for his proposed UN Macau Conference Center. Ashe apparently agreed to meet NG in Macau in exchange for Lorenzo buying Ashe and his family a trip to New Orleans, including first-class airline tickets and a luxury hotel suite.
After Ashe’s meeting with Ng in Macau, he allegedly told Lorenzo that he had arranged for NG to meet with the then-Prime Minister of Antigua, PM Spencer, to discuss “concrete investment opportunities, including the immediate acquisition of hotel properties.”
12: Ashe also then allegedly began soliciting additional payments from Lorenzo to pay for the installation of a private basketball court at his house in Westchester County.
In addition to agreeing to pay for Ashe’s family vacation and basketball court, Lorenzo supposedly began paying Ashe’s wife, as a “climate change consultant” for NGO-1, in the amount of $2,500 per month.
13: After initially focusing on allegedly paying Ashe to obtain access to the then-Prime Minister and other Antiguan officials to further Ng’s effort to invest and acquire property in Antigua, Lorenzo and Ng then decided to use Ashe to seek to obtain UN support for NG’s proposed UN Macau Conference Center.
In February 2012, Lorenzo drafted a UN document in Ashe’s name for Ashe to submit to the UN Secretary General in support of the development of NG’s UN Macau Conference Center.
14: After exchanging several drafts of the UN Document with Lorenzo, on February 24, 2012, Ashe submitted the final document to the UN.
Lorenzo used the UN document in promotional materials for NG’s conference center with other officials and an investment banking firm, using the document to imply that the conference center Ng was seeking to develop was likely to be supported in some fashion by the United Nations.
In early 2013, Yin, who serves as Ng’s principal assistant, repeatedly pressed Lorenzo to make progress on Ng’s request and threatened to halt the payments to Lorenzo unless progress was made.
Following the repeated demands by Yin (on Ng’s behalf), Lorenzo apparently arranged for Ashe to issue a revised UN document that specifically promoted Ng’s private company – by name – as the developer of the proposed conference center.
Later, Lorenzo, according to the US government, arranged for Ashe to travel to Macau with other UN officials to meet with Ng in exchange for a $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 make the trip, Ashe allegedly 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 $100K and $250K.”
Although Ashe claimed the funds would not be used by him personally, as described in detail in the complaint, he transferred the vast majority of funds that were paid to his personal account with his wife and used them to pay for personal expenses.
15: In addition to soliciting bribes from Lorenzo, Yin, and Ng, Ashe also allegedly solicited and received payments from Yan and Piao, who represented other Chinese businessmen seeking to invest in or obtain favors from Antiguan government officials.
In particular, as alleged in the complaint, Yan and Piao arranged for over $800,000 of payments to Ashe in exchange for official favors by Ashe and other Antiguan officials for various Chinese businessmen.
16: The initial payment arranged by Yan and Piao was a $300,000 payment on behalf of a Chinese media executive referred to as “CC-1” in the Complaint. After receiving the payment, Ashe reported that he had traveled to Antigua “to meet with all the key decision makers to discuss [CC-1’s] plans; that I had the initial resources in hand (and which have now been fully utilized), certainly served the intended purpose of focusing minds and getting the conversation started.” Financial records reflect that Ashe sent $100,000 of CC-1’s payment to the then Prime Minister of Antigua, and sent more funds to other Antiguan political interests.
17: In August 2013, Yan and Piao allegedly began paying Ashe approximately $20,000 per month to be the “Honorary Chairman” of a New York-based non-governmental organization (“NGO-2”), of which Yan serves as the CEO, which purportedly was formed to promote the UN’s sustainable development goals.
The next month, after Ashe formally assumed his one-year term as UNGA President, Yan and Piao allegedly arranged for another Chinese businessman, referred to as “CC-2” in the Complaint, to send Ashe $100,000 purportedly to pay for a UN reception in honor of Ashe’s presidency.
18: Approximately one month later, Yan and Piao arranged for Piao to travel with Ashe and CC-2 to meet with Antiguan officials about a $20 million deal for CC-2’s company to install a “national internet security system” for Antigua.
Ashe’s intercession on CC-2’s behalf resulted in a signed “memorandum of understanding” between CC-2’s company and the Government of Antigua to move forward with CC-2’s project.
19: Ashe also used allegedly his position as UNGA President to promote CC-2’s company to officials with the Government of Kenya and paid a portion of these bribe payments to the then Prime Minister of Antigua.
In addition, Yan and Piao allegedly arranged for Ashe to be paid $200,000 (plus travel expenses) in exchange for attending and speaking in ASHE’s official capacity at a private conference in China hosted by a Chinese real estate developer identified as CC-3 in the Complaint. In addition to attendance at the conference, CC-3 also sought to “offer [Ashe] a permanent convention venue for the UN meetings on sustainability and climate changes . . . as well as for the 193 members of the UN to convene. . . .”
20: As alleged in the complaint, in 2013 and 2014, while Ashe was UNGA President, he solicited and received payments from Lorenzo, Ng, Yin, Yan, Piao, and others, to business accounts he personally created in the name of the President of the General Assembly.
More than $1 million of the money that he allegedly solicited to supposedly support his UN Presidency was then transferred to himself, primarily in the form of $25,000 monthly checks written to and by him with the memo line “salary” (notwithstanding the fact that he already received a salary from the Government of Antigua).
During these years, Ashe was also paid approximately $200,000 annually in “consulting” income from Lorenzo, Ng, Piao, and Yan. For tax years 2013 and 2014, Ashe filed tax returns that materially failed to account for the income he was deriving from his purported salary payments and his “consulting” contracts.
Specifically, for year 2013, Ashe and his wife underreported their income by approximately $462,350 and, for year 2014, they underreported his income by approximately $796,329.28.
Lorenzo, Ng, Yin, Yan and Piao are charged with multiple bribery-related counts. Yan and Piao are also charged with laundering bribery money from China.
Ng and Yin were previously arrested on September 19, 2015, based on a separate complaint alleging that Ng and Yin agreed to make false statements to Customs and Border Protection officers about the true purpose of approximately $4.5 million in cash that Ng and Yin had brought into the U.S. from China since 2013.
“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.
Ashe is a citizen of Antigua and a legal permanent resident of the United States who could face deportation.
Ng is a citizen of China, Portugal, and the Dominican Republic. Lorenzo, Yin, Yan and Piao are naturalized U.S. citizens.