Staff at News Org Linked to UN Corruption Scandal Shocked Over Allegations

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Francis Lorenzo (left) pictured with Ban Ki-moon and Antigua’s prime minister Baldwin Spencer in 2011.

Oct. 7, 2015 – Staff at a UN-accredited news organization that received more than $12 million since its inception in 2009 from the Chinese billionaire at the center of a corruption scandal said they are “disappointed and shocked” over allegations against their president.

South-South News is headed by Francis Lorenzo, the deputy ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the United Nations. Lorenzo was charged in New York on Tuesday for facilitating bribes to the former president of the General Assembly, John Ashe, to get Ashe to use his influence to support the building of a UN conference center in Macau by Chinese billionaire David Ng.

“The South-South News staff is disappointed and shocked to learn about these allegations. If they ultimately prove true, it will be a serious blow to our mission, what we believe as staff members, and what we work for every day,” the staff said in a statement issued Tuesday evening.

“Had knowledge of Lorenzo’s alleged activities been made aware to us, we would have strongly objected and refused to comply where relevant,” the statement added. “It is therefore upsetting to us that our hard work could be associated with the allegations against Lorenzo.”

The charges against Lorenzo state that in 2009 he was made honorary president of a New York-based NGO, understood to be South-South News, that was founded by Ng and that he has received a regular $20,000 monthly salary ever since. Ng has wired more than $12 million to the South-South News bank account in New York, the charge sheet states.

The charges allege that payments were made from the South-South News bank account to John Ashe beginning in 2011 when he was Antigua’s ambassador to the United Nations and that, from January 2011 to December 2014, Ashe’s wife was paid a $2,500 monthly salary to work as a “climate consultant” for South-South News though the charge sheet says there is no evidence that she ever actually did any work for the organization.

The criminal complaint also alleges that Ashe got South-South News to pay for Antigua’s then prime minister, Baldwin Spencer, and six others to fly first-class to New York to attend the South-South News annual gala which was taking place during the same week as the UN’s annual General Debate in September 2011.

Ban Ki-moon greeting John Ashe

Ban Ki-moon greeting John Ashe

The charge sheet adds that in February 2012, after Ashe and his wife had received some $38,000 in payments from South-South News, in addition to other gifts including travel and the construction of a basketball court at Ashe’s Westchester County home, that Ashe sent a letter to Ban Ki-moon, as an official UN document, stating that Antigua’s prime minister and other heads of state had decided to launch a “Global Business Incubator, Permanent Expo and Meeting Center” hosted in Macau and to be built by the Sun Kian Ip group, whose chairman is David Ng.

The charges state that Lorenzo then used this official UN document to imply that the conference center that Ng was seeking to develop was in some fashion supported by the United Nations.

Payments to Ashe from the South-South News bank account continued, and got bigger, with some $100,000 paid to Ashe between January and June 2013, in addition to his wife’s monthly salary as well as a separate $25,000 payment to Ashe in February 2013.

Beginning in 2014, Ashe solicited funds from Ng for his General Assembly presidency, including a $200,000 payment from the South-South News bank account that was deposited to Ashe’s account on June 3, 2014. He was elected unopposed in Sept. 2013 to the rotating regional post as the candidate for the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries at the UN.

A judge on Tuesday set bail at $1 million for Ashe and he was also ordered to wear an electronic bracelet. In total, he is accused of accepting $1.3 million in bribes and failing to pay adequate taxes.

Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz