United States authorities charged a former president of the United Nations General Assembly, a billionaire Macau real estate developer and four others on Tuesday for engaging in a wide-ranging corruption scheme.
John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who was general assembly president from 2013 to 2014, was accused in a complaint filed in federal court in New York of taking more than $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen, including developer Ng Lap Seng.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who announced the arrests of Ashe and the other defendants, said the investigation could result in more charges as authorities examine whether corruption is business as usual at the United Nations.
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.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is shocked and deeply troubled by the allegations, said his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric. The U.N. had not previously been informed of the probe, Dujarric said, but would cooperate if contacted.
The case followed the Sept. 19 arrest of Ng, 68, and an assistant, Jeff Yin, 29, for falsely claiming that $4.5 million they brought into the United States from China from 2013 to 2015 was meant for gambling or buying art, antiques or real estate.
Both men are charged in the latest case. Bharara said authorities continue to examine funds connected to Ng, who prosecutors say has a $1.8 billion fortune, much of which he earned on developments in Macau.
Ashe, 61, also received more than $800,000 from Chinese businessmen to support their interests within the U.N. and Antigua, and kicked some of the money to Antigua's then-prime minister, who was not named, the complaint said.
Allegedly Ashe solicited bribes in various forms, including payments to cover a New Orleans family vacation and construction for a $30,000 basketball court at his house in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
From 2012 to 2014, more than $3 million from foreign governments and individuals was deposited in bank accounts controlled by Ashe, who spent the money on his mortgage, BMW lease payments and Rolex watches, prosecutors said.
The complaint only charged Ashe with tax offenses, which it said are not covered by any diplomatic immunity he enjoys. The U.N. General Assembly presidency is a ceremonial, one-year post paid for by the home country.