MANHATTAN (CN) — John Ashe, who headed the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, died Wednesday, leaving a legacy of public service tarnished by allegations of corrupt high-living.
Ashe, 61, died from a barbell dropped while weightlifting, a representative for the Westchester County Medical Examiner’s Office said.
Confirmation that the Dobbs Ferry-based diplomat suffered traumatic asphyxia and a laryngeal cartilage fracture came after early reports saying Ashe had a heart attack.
Ashe’s career in international relations began in his native country of Antigua. Between 1989 and 1995, Ashe served as scientific attaché, counsellor and minister counselor to the country’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
He spent the next nine years representing Antigua and Barbuda as their deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.
Both Caribbean island nations face acute risks from the effects of climate change, including water and food security, and Ashe would spend much of his diplomatic life leading negotiations surrounding the environment.
Ashe chaired the 13th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development in 2005, while also assuming leadership roles in multiple treaty talks. Among these were including the Basel Convention preventing the transfer of hazardous wastes to the Global South; the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer; and the Copenhagen Summit on climate change.
Ashe assumed his highest office on Sept. 17, 2013, the day he started his one-year term helming the U.N. General Assembly.
It was around this time, according to U.S. federal prosecutors, that Ashe began trading favors from his office for $1.3 million in bribes and gifts from a Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng.
When he announced charges against Ashe on Oct. 6, 2015, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the investigation by his office in Manhattan uncovered that the “cancer of corruption that plagues too many local and state governments infects the United Nations as well.”
“Although this case involves the high-flying world of billionaire executives and influential U.N. officials, at its core, it was just a classic quid pro quo criminal scheme: bribes paid in exchange for official actions taken,” Bharara told reporters.
Prosecutors said that Ng turned to Ashe to help secure the imprimatur of the United Nations on a multibillion-dollar conference center in Macau.
On top of a flush of cash, Ashe accepted bribes of custom-tailored suits from Hong Kong worth roughly $59,000, two Rolexes worth $59,000 and a lease on a BMW X5, valued at roughly $40,000, according to his criminal complaint.
He allegedly failed to report his ill-gotten gains while living in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
Fighting the allegations took a toll on Ashe’s finances, and the U.N.’s former chief had to turn to a court-appointed attorney after failing to pay the bills of his retained counsel. Court papers revealed that he was in plea negotiations as of May.
The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment on Ashe’s death.
A U.N. spokesman said that the world body also would not be issuing a statement, but Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will send a letter of condolence to his family.
Ashe is survived by his wife, Anilla Cherian, and his two children.
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