MANHATTAN (CN) – Ten days before federal prosecutors charged former United Nations president John Ashe with bribery, one of his newly accused co-conspirators held a star-studded anti-poverty gala that featured a speech by President Bill Clinton.
The 10-page action unsealed Friday against Vivian Wang does not identify the humanitarian nonprofit where she worked but all signs point to the South-South Steering Committee for Sustainable Development, which did not return a request for comment.
Wang, whom the court released on a $1.5 million bond this afternoon after a brief presentment hearing, is the latest face of philanthropy charged in the expansive corruption investigation that also implicates a Chinese billionaire and diplomatic heavyweights.
Ashe, the president of the 68th session of the U.N. General Assembly at the center of the scandal, has denied the charges, but Francis Lorenzo, the deputy permanent representative for the United Nations to the Dominican Republic, pleaded guilty Wednesday.
The new complaint against Wang implicates her role as vice president of the U.N.-centric publication South-South News where Lorenzo was honorary president.
Though South-South News describes itself as a “21st century media platform,” prosecutors called it one of many groups that were “essentially fronts” to pay Lorenzo and his co-conspirators bribes. South-South News has not returned a request for comment.
Wang helmed the fifth annual South-South Awards at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria on Sept. 26, 2015 – just 10 days before authorities arrested 61-year-old Ashe at his Dobbs Ferry home.
Glamour magazine’s coverage of glitzy ode to sustainable development says the gala brought together celebrities, beauty queens, global diplomats and the virtual visage of a former president.
“Distinguished guests included prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne, Miss Universe Paulina Vega, actor Forest Whitaker, and director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., José Graziano da Silva,” Glamour reported. “Special video addresses were given by former President Bill Clinton, and actors Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas, who is a U.N. Messenger of Peace.”
Clinton – who is not implicated whatsoever in the U.N. bribery scheme – made the video to honor Bill Austin for a donation of hearing aids by Austin’s Starkey Hearing Foundation. Starkey also donated $1.6 million to the Clinton Global Initiative between 2010 and 2013, but Clinton left that background out of his speech.
Prosecutors say Wang participated in a roughly three-year conspiracy that ended months before this soiree.
Dated Wednesday but unsealed today, the complaint says Lorenzo sought a $500,000 contribution for an unnamed Antiguan ambassador in exchange for Hong Kong-based diplomatic positions he offered Wang’s husband in 2012.
Wang wrote the ambassador a $25,000 check from one of her NGO accounts early the next year, and followed up with an email on Feb. 25, 2013, prosecutors say.
“Formally confirming” her husband’s interest in becoming an “economic envoy” to Antigua, the email from Wang promises he will “proceed to make this contribution (US$ half million).”
Wang allegedly sent the ambassador an email with the subject line “RECEIPT” that confirmed the payment on April 2 of that year.
“During the same period, Wang informed the Antigua ambassador, among other things, that Wang’s husband had arranged for a ‘nice suit for you in [Hong Kong],’ which the Antigua Ambassador could pick up on his next visit,” the complaint states.
Prosecutors also accuse Wang of having transmitted more than $200,000 from her development initiative to pay a California company for her husband’s cemetery plot and expenses in early 2015.
The bond U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pittman Wang granted Wang this afrenoon includes GPS monitoring, travel restrictions and home detention.
Wang faces her next court appearance on April 18 hearing at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse.
Her attorney Raymond Wang told reporters outside the arraignment room: “We think the government has a serious misunderstanding about the case.”
The complaint identifies the defendant by her full name, Julia Vivi Wang, but says that she “typically uses her middle name ‘Vivian,’ in professional interactions in the United States.” Chinese real estate mogul Ng Lap Seng and Ng’s assistant, John Yin, have pleaded not guilty to related charges.
Sheri Yan and Heidi Park, the former CEO and director of finance of the Global Sustainability Foundation, respectively, pleaded guilty within a week of each other in January.
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