NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. authorities have decided to move forward with bringing new charges against a former United Nations General Assembly president accused of taking $1.3 million in bribes, a prosecutor said on Monday.
The disclosure came at a hearing in Manhattan federal court in which a lawyer for former U.N. General Assembly President John Ashe was allowed to withdraw from the case due to the ex-diplomat’s failure to pay several months of legal bills.
To date, Ashe - a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda - has only been charged with tax fraud in connection with the bribes, in light of questions about whether diplomatic immunity may preclude any bribery charges.
While prosecutors had said such charges were likely, they held off for several months from pursuing them in order to hear arguments from Ashe’s lawyer, Hervè Gouraige, about his claim for immunity from prosecution, court filings show.
But during Monday’s proceedings, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal said that prosecutors were planning to seek a new indictment in the case before the next hearing on May 27.
“Absent a contrary instruction from the court, we would anticipate presenting a superseding indictment to the grand jury for their consideration prior to our next conference,” he said.
U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick at the hearing named a court-appointed lawyer for Ashe, Jeremy Schneider, after reviewing a financial affidavit for Ashe, noting the “substantial” sums owed to Gouraige.
But he warned Ashe that if information comes forward of undisclosed assets or funds, he may revisit the issue.
Ashe, who served as General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, is one of seven individuals charged since October in connection with the bribery scheme.
Prosecutors said Ng Lap Seng, a billionaire real estate developer in Macau, paid Ashe through intermediaries over $500,000 to seek U.N. support of a United Nations-sponsored conference center in Macau that his company would develop.
The intermediaries included Francis Lorenzo, a suspended deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic, and Jeff Yin, Ng’s assistant, prosecutors said.
Lorenzo pleaded guilty in March. Ng and Yin have pleaded not guilty.
Ashe also received more than $800,000 from Chinese businessmen to support their interests within the United Nations and Antigua, prosecutors said.
Those bribes were arranged through Sheri Yan, who was the Global Sustainability Foundation’s chief executive, and Heidi Hong Piao, the foundation’s finance director, prosecutors said. Both women pleaded guilty in January.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York