Thursday, September 28, 2023
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UN Corruption Case Nets First Guilty Plea

MANHATTAN (CN) - An nonprofit executive pleaded guilty to facilitating bribes to former General Assembly president John Ashe, who will be in court next week for a conference where a fellow diplomat from the Dominican Republic will try to claim immunity.

Heidi Park, 52, worked as the director of finance for the Global Sustainability Foundation.

She was one of six defendants named in criminal complaint unsealed in late 2015 in what prosecutors called a conspiracy to pay Ashe more than $1.3 million.

Unlike her co-defendants, Park was never indicted and she waived her right to a grand jury on Thursday by admitting to five counts of conspiracy, money laundering, and tax charges that can put her behind bars for 60 years.

She also faces a possible $1.75 million fine.

In a case featuring a Chinese billionaire's alleged payments to diplomatic heavyweights, Park is believed to have served as a channel for illicit funds.

Ashe, who was born in Antigua, served as the president of the 68th session of the General Assembly and the U.N. ambassador for Antigua and Barbuda.

On top of the payments to Ashe, Park tried to "promote the bribery of the Antiguan prime minister," who received $100,000 from one of Ashe's accounts as president of the General Assembly, prosecutors said in a criminal complaint.

In a carefully worded statement, Park said that she "agreed to give money to John Ashe" with "the intent of influencing" him in his official capacity.

She also said that she laundered the money from a "foreign bank account to a U.S. bank account" and failed to report money to the Internal Revenue Service.

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office did not release a comment by press time, and prosecutors did not release the terms of her plea agreement with the government.

Park's attorney Michael Himmel from Lowenstein Sandler LLP declined to comment, and the Global Sustainability Foundation did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick set a Jan. 21 hearing expected to focus primarily on the diplomatic immunity claims of Francis Lorenzo, the deputy permanent representative for the United Nations to the Dominican Republic.

At the previous hearing, Ashe and his co-defendants complained of pretrial delays, which prosecutors justified by a continuing grand jury investigation to bring a new indictment.

Broderick warned the government at the time to resolve that matter quickly, and the issue is also expected to bubble up in court next week.

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