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Antigua govt wants probe into fraud charges against former diplomat

Friday, August 25, 2017

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ST JOHN'S, Antigua (CMC) — The Antigua and Barbuda government says investigations will be done to ascertain whether any former government minister should be charged in connection with a bribery scandal involving a former United Nations based diplomat.

Information Minister Melford Nicholas, speaking to reporters at the end of the weekly Cabinet meeting here, said that the Gaston Browne administration had received diplomatic notes from the United States indicating “that there has been clear breaches of Antiguan law dealing with money laundering and racketeering.

“This is certainly a matter that the Gaston Browne administration sees as grave,” he told reporters.
In October 2015, John Ashe, the former president of the United Nations General Assembly, pleaded not guilty to criminal charges of filing fraudulent income tax returns and evading tax payments to the US government on more than US$1.3 million he is accused of receiving in bribes dating to 2011, which the US has traced.

Ashe, the Antigua and Barbuda diplomat, died while awaiting trial.

Court records state that a complaint had been brought by the United States attorney for the Southern District, charging the former diplomat, who once served as president of the United Nations General Assembly between 2013-14 and five others, including a billionaire developer from the Chinese territory of Macau.

The complaint alleges that the five, including billionaire Ng Lap Seng, also known as David Ng, paid bribes to the former Antigua and Barbuda diplomat in exchange for “benefits from the UN and the government of Antigua and Barbuda”.

Among the allegations are that Ashe “accepted over US$500,000 of bribes” facilitated by three of the defendants — Ng, Jeff Yin and Francis Lorenzo — in an effort to build “a multi-billion dollar, UN-sponsored conference centre in Macau, China.”

In addition, the complaint charges, the former diplomat received more than US$800,000 in bribes from “various Chinese businessmen” and that as part of the scheme, he “shared a portion of the bribe payments” with senior Antiguan government officials, including the former prime minister.
Prime Minister Browne had said then that the incident had “serious implications for the country and that the United States can be assured of his administration's support”.

Nicholas told reporters Friday that while the administration here had not adhered to a request from Washington to waive Ashe's diplomatic status, those people residing here implicated in the scandal might not be so lucky.

“Based on what has been uncovered in the United States courts… I think it behoves us to do the right thing to ensure that we too undertake the necessary investigations internally.

“As such the Attorney General has been asked to refer the file that we have received from the United States courts to the Director of Public Prosecutions for him to make a determination in respect of where we go from here,” Nicholas said.

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