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Ban orders probe into bribe claims as FBI cites Kenya

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has requested that the world body’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) launch an audit of the interaction between the UN, the Global Sustainability Foundation and the Sun Kian Ip Group, and the use of any funds received from these entities.

According to a UN spokesperson, the request follows revelations that the United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has implicated John Ashe, a former President of the UN General Assembly, in a bribery scheme that involved more than US$1 million (Sh103 million) in payments from sources in China for assistance in real estate deals and other business interests.

Kenya is also entangled in the saga, according to FBI prosecutors, as Ashe used his position as UNGA president to promote a company owed by a Chinese business man, only referred to as CC-2, to officials of the Kenyan government.

Two naturalised US citizens, Heidi Hong Piao and Shiwei Yan, who were also arrested, had earlier arranged for the businessman to send Ashe US$100,000 purportedly to pay for a UN reception in honour of ASHE’s presidency.

But approximately one month later, Yan and Piao arranged for the latter to travel with Ashe and CC-2 to meet with Antiguan officials about a US$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. Ashe paid a portion of these bribe payments to the Prime Minister of Antigua, according to the FBI.

“The Secretary-General is concerned about the serious nature of the allegations, which go to the heart of the work of the United Nations and its Member States,” said a statement issued by Ban’s spokesperson.

“The Secretary-General reaffirms that there will be no tolerance for any corruption at the United Nations or in the name of the United Nations,” the statement continued. “He is committed to ensuring that funds received from such private entities were handled properly according to relevant UN rules and regulations.”

Analysts say the new corruption charges are likely to put a damper on the recent launch of 17 new Sustainable Development Goals, whose formulation Kenya played a key role in, as the Global Sustainability Foundation was a major player.

The Foundation, which is headed by Yan, one of six people charged in the scandal along with Ashe, gave at least US$1.5 million to the United Nations office for South-South Co-operation. He said he is ready to cooperate with the US authorities if contacted.

Others charged by the FBI are Deputy UN Ambassador for the Dominican Republic Francis Lorenzo and Ng Lap Seng and Jeff C. Yin, who are also naturalised US citizens. Lorenzo, Ng, Yin, Yan and Piao are charged with multiple bribery-related counts while Ashe is charged with tax fraud for failure to report or pay income taxes on the over US$1 million he received in bribes in 2013 and 2014.

He was serving as UNGA president during this period. Yan and Piao are also charged with laundering bribery money from China. They have all been arrested.

According to the FBI, Ng and Yin were previously arrested on September 19 based on a separate complaint alleging that they agreed to make false statements to Customs and Border Protection officers about the true purpose of approximately US$4.5 million in cash that they had brought into the US from China since 2013.

US Attorney Preet Bharara said if proven, the charges will confirm that the cancer of corruption that plagues too many local and state governments infects the United Nations as well.

“As alleged, for Rolexes, bespoke suits, and a private basketball court, John Ashe, the 68th President of the UN General Assembly, sold himself and the global institution he led. United in greed, the defendants allegedly formed a corrupt alliance of business and government, converting the UN into a platform for profit.

We will continue to do everything we can to root out public corruption—whether we find it in a city council, in Albany, or as here, in the United Nations,” Ashe.

According to the allegations contained in the complaint unsealed on Tuesday in a Manhattan federal court, since approximately 2011, Ashe has been soliciting and accepting bribes from various businesspeople in China seeking to influence the actions of the UN and officials in ASHE’s home country of Antigua.

Ashe is said to have 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.

The bribes were facilitated by Lorenzo, Ng, Yin, Yan and Piao, among others, who arranged for the transmission and laundering of over $1 million of bribery money from sources in China.

In exchange for the bribes, Ashe agreed to and did perform official actions for businesspeople who were seeking benefits from the UN and Antigua.

Among other things, ASHE accepted over US$500,000 of bribes facilitated by Lorenzo and Yin from Ng, who was seeking to build a multibillion-dollar, UN-sponsored conference centre in Macau, China.

In exchange for these payments from Ng, Ashe submitted a UN document to the UN Secretary General, which claimed that there was a purported need to build the UN Macau Conference Centre.

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