(Adds further details on case, comment from defense lawyer))
By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK, March 18 (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Friday unveiled charges against a China-born woman involved with two organizations focused on the United Nations as part of an ongoing investigation into a scheme to pay bribes to a former U.N. General Assembly president.
Julia Vivi Wang, 55, was accused in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan of having paid a bribe of at least $500,000 to buy Antiguan diplomatic positions for her late husband and another Chinese businessman.
The bribe was solicited and facilitated by John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda and who was General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, the complaint said.
He was among six people charged in October for participating in a scheme that involved the payment of more than $1.3 million in bribes to Ashe by Chinese businessmen, including Ng Lap Seng, a billionaire Macau real estate developer.
The latest arrest followed the guilty plea on Wednesday of one of the defendants, Francis Lorenzo, a suspended deputy United Nations ambassador from the Dominican Republic, who agreed to cooperate with U.S. authorities.
Wang, who was arrested on Thursday and is also known as Vivian Wang, was charged in the complaint with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. She was released on Friday on a $1.5 million bond.
Raymond Wong, her lawyer, said he believed prosecutors had a “serious misunderstanding about the case.” He declined further comment.
Wang was the vice president of South-South News, a U.N.-focused media organization, and International Organization for South-South Cooperation (IOSSC), which described its mission as advancing the United Nations’ development goals.
Lorenzo was president at both organizations before his arrest.
According to the complaint, the $500,000 bribe was solicited and sought by Ashe and Lorenzo beginning in 2012 to allow Wang’s husband and the unnamed Chinese businessman to secure positions in a Hong Kong investment office Antigua was opening.
Lorenzo told U.S. authorities that Wang and her husband sought the positions because they would help them make money by helping others to obtain citizenship by investing in a country and by arranging for business deals, the complaint said.
Some of the money was intended to pay off Antiguan officials, the complaint said including its then-prime minister, who was not named in court papers.
Baldwin Spencer, who was prime minister at the time, could not be reached for comment, but has denied related allegations in the case. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York, editing by G Crosse and Bernard Orr)