A US citizen who served as a UN diplomat from the Dominican Republic pleaded guilty on Wednesday to charges of being part of a bribery scheme in a move to cooperate with US government against co-defendants who include a former UN General Assembly president and a Chinese billionaire.
Forty-eight-year-old Francis Lorenzo, who was suspended as a deputy ambassador from the Dominican Republic, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court.
Lorenzo admitted he facilitated bribe payments from Ng Lap Seng, a billionaire real estate developer in Macau, to John Ashe, a former UN 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 UN support of a UN-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 US 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, UN 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 organised.
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.