16 de diciembre de 2015 / 0:26 / hace 2 años

Suspended U.N. diplomat cites immunity in U.S. bribe case

NEW YORK, Dec 15 (Reuters) - A suspended deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic has asked a U.S. judge to dismiss an indictment accusing him of participating in a bribery scheme, saying he has diplomatic immunity.

A lawyer for Francis Lorenzo, 48, filed papers in federal court in Manhattan late on Monday, asking U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick to dismiss charges including bribery and money laundering facing the diplomat.

He is one of six individuals facing charges in connection with an alleged scheme to pay more than $1.3 million in bribes to John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda and onetime General Assembly president.

In the filing, Lorenzo's lawyer, Brian Bieber, cited Lorenzo's status as a deputy ambassador to the United Nations at the time of his Oct. 6 arrest and during the period of alleged wrongdoing in the indictment.

"As such, Lorenzo is protected from prosecution by virtue of his diplomatic agent immunity," Bieber wrote.

Lorenzo was suspended after the charges were announced.

Broderick ordered prosecutors on Tuesday to respond by Jan. 5. A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is pursuing the charges, declined comment.

Prosecutors alleged that Ashe, 61, took more than $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen, including billionaire Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng.

The prosecutors said Ng, through intermediaries, paid Ashe more than $500,000 to seek U.N. support of a U.N.-sponsored conference center in Macau.

Authorities said the intermediaries included Lorenzo, who prosecutors said also received bribes from Ng, and Jeff Yin, Ng's assistant.

Ashe also received more than $800,000 from Chinese businessmen to support their interests within the United Nations and Antigua, prosecutors said.

The question of the extent Ashe and Lorenzo have diplomatic immunity and its effect on any charges has loomed over the case.

Ashe, who was General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, has to date only been charged with tax fraud, with prosecutors citing his possible diplomatic immunity as a potential obstacle to charging him with bribery.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Janis Echenberg told a hearing on Oct. 26 that prosecutors were "looking carefully" at the immunity issue and would likely bring additional charges, a position she reiterated at a hearing last Thursday.

Ashe's lawyer, Herve Gouraige, told Thursday's hearing his client does have immunity. (Reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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