Judge: UN damaged by graft case involving ex-Assembly president

United Nations, July 30 (IANS) The world body has suffered “substantial damage” because of corruption, a federal judge has said, jailing a woman for 20 months for bribing a former president of the General Assembly.

John Ashe, who led the Assembly during its 68th session from 2013 to 2014, received $800,000 in bribes from Shiwei Sheri Yan, the former chief executive officer of the Global Sustainability Foundation, according to court documents.

Ashe, who had been the Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda died last month while exercising with barbells at his New York suburb home. He was to have been tried on corruption charges.

Yan had earlier admitted in court that she committed the offences.

New York federal Judge Vernon S. Broderick said: “There is substantial damage done to the UN, and the image of the UN itself.”

“Those bent on perverting decision-making,” he warned, “simply will not be tolerated.”

Ashe was not a part of the UN secretariat or its administration, but one of the diplomats sent by the 193 member countries of the UN to represent them. He was elected to a one-year term to preside over the Assembly and was answerable to the member countries that elected him and not to the UN secretariat.

The office of the Assembly president operates with limited resources, which sometimes makes it rely on outside help that could have a risk of conflict of interest, to avoid which a trust fund has been set up. India was the first to contribute to the fund when it gave $250,000 last month.

According to the case developed by New York federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, Yan set up the foundation to funnel monthly payments of $20,000 to Ashe, who was made its honorary chairman. Ashe appointed her his adviser when he became the president of the Assembly.

In addition he was also given two lump sum payments of $100,000 each and one of$300,000, some of which he shared with an unnamed Antiguan official, the prosecution said. In return for the payments, Ashe set up contacts between Antiguan officials and a Chinese media company and a Chinese security company, which the prosecution did not name. Antingua signed a memorandum of understanding with the security company.

“Yan bribed the President of the UN General Assembly with hundreds of thousands of dollars to further private business interests,” Bharara said. “For her role in corrupting the United Nations, Yan will serve time in a federal prison.”

Ashe’s wife Anilla Cherian is of Indian descent.

Yan was part of a web of UN diplomats and business people allegedly involved in corrupt dealings. In some cases, they used front organisations like the Global Sustainability Foundation, according to prosecutors.

The others entangled in cases making their way through courts are Yan’s partner Heidi Piao, former Dominican Republic Deputy Permanent Representative Francis Lorenzo, Macau billionaire real estate developer Ng Lap Seng and his aide Jeff C. Yin.

Piao and Lorenzo have admitted to bribery and money laundering charges. Ng and Yin are to be tried next year.

(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)

–IANS

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