Humanitarian worker charged in United Nations bribery scheme

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

NEW YORK (AP) — A humanitarian organization officer was charged with money laundering in a United Nations bribery case that has ensnared two diplomats and a billionaire Chinese real estate mogul, according to court papers unsealed Friday.

Julia Vivi Wang, also known as Vivian Wang, is accused of paying $500,000 in exchange for diplomatic positions for her late husband and another businessman and laundering the money through the sustainable development organization where she was an officer. Prosecutors say the bribe was solicited by John Ashe, a former General Assembly president and U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, and Francis Lorenzo, deputy ambassador for the Dominican Republic.

Wang was awaiting a court appearance, and it wasn't clear if she had a lawyer who could comment on the charges. A call to her nonprofit was not returned.

Federal officials say Wang worked at one nonprofit and then created a second that aimed to fund economic development in developing countries. She used bank accounts from the second organization to launder money from China through the U.S. and to an account in Trinidad, authorities said. According to court papers, Wang and her husband wanted an official diplomatic position because "they believed that such a position would permit them to make money."

After her husband died, she used the development fund to transfer $200,000 to a California company to pay for her husband's cemetery plot, authorities said.

Lorenzo, who pleaded guilty Wednesday and agreed to cooperate against the other officials charged in the case, helped facilitate, according to court papers.

Federal prosecutors have said Ashe turned the world body into a "platform for profit" by accepting over $1 million in bribes from real estate mogul Ng Lap Seng and other businesspeople to pave the way for lucrative investments. Some of the bribes were paid to gain Ashe's support for the construction of a U.N.-sponsored conference center that Ng hoped to build in his hometown of Macau, prosecutors said.

Ashe, of Dobbs Ferry, New York, and Ng have each pleaded not guilty and are free on bail. Ng is under 24-hour security, confined to a Manhattan apartment.

Ashe served in the largely ceremonial post as head of the 193-nation assembly from September 2013 to September 2014.