UN looks at donations linked to bribery scandal

John Ashe. (File, AFP)
John Ashe. (File, AFP)

New York - The United Nations said on Wednesday it was looking into donations made by a foundation whose CEO was arrested for her role in a wide-ranging bribery scheme also involving former General Assembly president John Ashe.

The Global Sustainability Foundation headed by Sheri Yan, one of six people charged in the scandal along with Ashe, gave at least $1.5m to the UN office for South-South Co-operation.

"They are taking an active look and will look as deeply as possible into the money, where it went and what it was used for," UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Ashe was arrested on Tuesday and accused of taking $1.3m in bribes from wealthy Chinese developer Ng Lap Seng to promote the construction of a UN conference centre in Macau.

Ban Ki-moon said he was "shocked and deeply troubled" by the charges but the secretary-general has not moved to set up a UN review of the bribery scheme.

"We are continuing to study the complaint from yesterday," said Dujarric.

The move to trace donations from the foundation was the first attempt by the United Nations to gain a better understanding of the scale of the bribery scheme.

Part of the UN Development Programme, the office for South-South cooperation is described on its website as a "broad framework for collaboration among countries of the South."

The office allegedly accepted donations from the foundation, which was not named in the criminal complaint but matches the description of a non-governmental organization used to channel bribes.

Ashe is the co-founder and honorary chairperson of the foundation.

The foundation's website names Edith Kutesa, wife of another former General Assembly president, Sam Kutesa, as a member of its board of directors. Kutesa has not been cited for any wrongdoing.

Also arrested on Tuesday was Francis Lorenzo, a UN deputy ambassador from the Dominican Republic, who heads South-South News, a UN-accredited media outfit that reports on development issues.

South-South News staff said in a statement that they were "disappointed and shocked" to learn of the charges against Lorenzo and that they were not aware of his dealings.

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