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Former U.N. General Assembly President Charged In Corruption Scheme

U.N. Ambassador John Ashe, of Antigua and Barbuda, speaks during a 2013 news conference at U.N. headquarters.

A former president of the U.N. General Assembly, John Ashe, is accused of accepting more than $1.3 million in bribes in return for his support of a real estate project in Macau, according to U.S. court documents.

Ashe is a former U.N. ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda who led the General Assembly from 2013 to 2014. He lives in New York state.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports:

"Ashe allegedly accepted bribes from an investor in a new U.N. conference center in Macau. Those bribes allegedly paid for the mortgage on his house, BMW lease payments and Rolex watches.

"Prosecutors say in exchange, Ashe sent a document to the U.N. secretary-general that supported the building project. According to court documents, the case also involves a deputy U.N. ambassador for the Dominican Republic, who allegedly helped transfer bribes to Ashe from the investor in Macau."

Ashe is one of six people charged, according to the court documents.

Reuters notes that "the complaint only charged Ashe with tax offenses, possibly because he may have diplomatic immunity for any conduct taken in his official capacity."

Two of the defendants were arrested last month on separate charges: Chinese developer Ng Lap Seng, the investor who allegedly bribed Ashe, and Ng's assistant, Jeff Yin. Here's more from Reuters:

"[The charges against Ashe] followed the Sept. 19 arrest of Ng and Yin 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.

"U.S. prosecutors have said Ng has a fortune of $1.8 billion, much of which he earned on developments in Macau. He sits on the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an adviser to the government.

"Ng heads the privately held Sun Kian Ip Group in Macau, whose foundation arm lists several ambassadors to the U.N., including Ashe, as holding leadership positions."

At a midday briefing, a spokesman for U.N. President Ban Ki-moon said Ban was "shocked and deeply troubled" by the charges that "go to the heart and integrity of the U.N.," NPR's Michelle Keleman reports.

The spokesman also defended the integrity of the world body, saying "corruption is not business as usual at the U.N."

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