(Adds comment from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman)
By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK, March 16 (Reuters) - A suspended deputy United Nations ambassador from the Dominican Republic pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges that he participated in a scheme to bribe a former U.N. General Assembly president.
Francis Lorenzo, 48, admitted in federal court in Manhattan that he engaged in conspiracies to commit bribery and money laundering, as part of an agreement to cooperate in the U.S. investigation.
Lorenzo admitted he facilitated bribe payments from Ng Lap Seng, a billionaire real estate developer in Macau, to John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda and who served as General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014.
Those bribes, Lorenzo admitted, were paid to Ashe to seek U.N. support of a U.N.-sponsored conference center in Macau. Lorenzo, who prosecutors said received bribes himself from Ng, said payments were also made to other unnamed foreign officials.
“I understand what I was doing, as I described it, was wrong,” he said in court.
Lorenzo is the third defendant to plead guilty to charges arising out of a case U.S. prosecutors announced in October involving a scheme starting in 2011 to pay more than $1.3 million in bribes to Ashe.
Prosecutors said the bribes included more than $500,000 in payments that Ng made through intermediaries including Lorenzo 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.
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.
Ashe, Ng and Yin have pleaded not guilty. Benjamin Brafman, Ng’s lawyer, said outside of court that Lorenzo’s plea would not affect the billionaire’s determination to go to trial, saying he “maintains he is personally innocent.”
Stephane Dujarric, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman, told reporters on Wednesday that audits the United Nations launched as a result of the bribery case were expected to be completed by the end of the month.
Dujarric also said the case revealed “some structural flaws” in how the office of the General Assembly president had been organized.
A task force established by Ban looking at the issue will within 10 days publish recommendations on how to “strengthen” and improve transparency of the office to avoid a repeat of the scandal, Dujarric said.
Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Alan Crosby and Tom Brown