UN launches audit of funds linked to bribery scandal

The United Nations on Thursday launched an audit to shed light on the relationship between a Chinese real estate developer and a foundation run by his associate who are accused of paying bribes to UN diplomats.

Former General Assembly president John Ashe was arrested on Tuesday for taking $1.3 million in bribes from developer Ng Lap Seng to promote his plan to build a UN conference center in Macau.

Ashe, a former UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, also sought to advance the Chinese businessman’s interests in his Caribbean home country.

Declaring that there will be “no tolerance for corruption at the United Nations”, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked the UN internal oversight office to carry out the audit.

The review will look at “the interaction between the United Nations and the Global Sustainability Foundation and the Sun Kian Ip Group” owned by Ng, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

It will examine “the use of any funds received from these entities,” he said.

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

But Dujarric said the funds were used to organize conferences in Bangladesh and in Macau earlier this year and that this was “in full compliance with UN standards and guidelines.”

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

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

The criminal complaint filed against Ashe and five others does not mention the foundation by name, but the description matches that of the Global Sustainablity Foundation which allegedly was used to funnel bribes.

Dujarric said the decision to launch an audit was “an important step” that underscored Ban’s concern about the corruption allegations.

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.