Diplomat pleads guilty in UN bribery scheme linked to Macau billionaire Ng Lap-seng

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 March, 2016, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 March, 2016, 2:38am

The deputy ambassador to the United Nations from the Dominican Republic pleaded guilty to engaging in a years-long bribery and money laundering scheme involving a Macau billionaire and the former president of the UN’s General Assembly.

Francis Lorenzo said he served as a middleman funnelling bribes to promote the business interests of Macau developer Ng Lap-seng, chairman of the Sun Kian Ip Group, while admitting to charges of conspiracy, money laundering, bribery and tax fraud. Some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars allegedly paid by Ng were channelled through offshore bank accounts, Lorenzo said.

The payments to John Ashe when he was serving as the UN General Assembly president were made to influence the agency’s official business, Assistant US Attorney Janis Echenberg told a Manhattan federal judge. Ng sought Ashe’s support to win the UN’s endorsement for the construction of a conference centre in Macau, according to the prosecutor. Lorenzo also arranged for payments to be made to “other foreign officials” to take unidentified actions that would benefit Ng, she said. 

Lorenzo told US District Judge Vernon Broderick at a hearing Wednesday that in June 2014, he helped get a US$200,000 bribe paid into a foreign bank account belonging to Ashe, saying “the purpose was to influence John Ashe to the benefit of Ng Lap-seng and others.”

As part of his plea agreement, Lorenzo will provide evidence to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service and is prepared to be a government witness in the case, Broderick said in court. 

“Mr Lorenzo has chosen to plead guilty and accept responsibility for his conduct,” his lawyer Brian Beiber said after court. “He’s looking forward to resolving all issues and closing this chapter of his life sooner rather than later.”

Ashe, Ng Lap-seng and Jeff Yin, an aide to Ng, have pleaded not guilty to the charges. Ashe’s lawyer, Joseph Sumofsky, and Sabrina Shroff, a lawyer for Yin, declined to comment on the plea.

Ng’s lawyers, Benjamin Brafman and Hugh Mo, were in court for Lorenzo’s guilty plea and said their client will continue fighting the charges.

“Today’s plea by Mr Lorenzo does not in any way affect Mr Ng,” Brafman said after court. “He’s determined to proceed to trial. Mr Ng strongly maintains that he is personally innocent of the crimes he’s been accused of.”

Ashe, who was also the ambassador to the UN for Antigua and Barbuda, is accused of omitting more than US$1.2 million, including the proceeds of the alleged bribery scheme, from his tax returns.

The US says he received money for a family vacation and the construction of a basketball court at his house in Dobbs Ferry, New York. Some funds went to pay his mortgage and other items such as a US$40,000 lease on a new BMW, US$54,000 for a pair of Rolex watches and US$59,000 for a single order of custom-tailored suits, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

Ashe is also accused of steering a Chinese technology executive to a Kenyan UN official in order to facilitate meetings between the Chinese and government officials in Nairobi.

Two others charged in the case have pleaded guilty. Shiwei Yan,who headed a New York foundation, admitted she paid bribes to Ashe to win his influence both at the UN and in Antigua. Heidi Hong Piao, a businesswoman, pleaded guilty to helping pay almost $1 million in bribes from sources in China to Ashe.