JOHN’S, Antigua CMC – The Antigua and Barbuda government, on Tuesday, adopted a cautious approach to international media reports that a former senior diplomat had been charged in the United States in connection with a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal that, allegedly, took place between 2011 and 2014.
Media reports quoting court records said that a complaint had been brought by the United States attorney for the Southern District, charging the former diplomat, John Ashe,who once served as president of the United Nations General Assembly and five others, including a billionaire developer from the Chinese territory of Macau.
The complaint alleges that the five, including billionaire Bg Lap Seng, also known as David Ng, paid bribes to the former Antigua and Barbuda diplomat in exchange for “benefits from the UN and the government of Antigua and Barbuda.”
Among the allegations are that Ashe “accepted over US$500,000 of bribes” facilitated by three of the defendants — Ng, Jeff C. Yin and Francis Lorenzo — in an effort to build “a multi-billion dollar, U.N.-sponsored conference center in Macau, China.”
In addition, the complaint charges, the former diplomat received more than US$800,000 in bribes from “various Chinese businessmen” and that as part of the scheme, he “shared a portion of the bribe payments” with senior Antiguan government officials, including the prime minister.
Foreign Affairs Minister Max Fernandez told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that while the Gaston Browne administration has not been provided with details on the issue, the reference to the island is of concern “all of us I think as Antiguans and Barbudans would have.
“The other thing is that the person has to be presumed innocent…so I think we have to wait and see how things work out,” Fernandez said, adding reference to monies being shared with the prime minister, he was certain the reference was not being made to Prime Minister Browne.
“I can definitely say without reservation that the present Prime Minister is not involved,” he said, adding that the Cabinet has not yet had a chance to discuss the issue.
“The news broke today and the US is the one making the charges…and I think we need to wait and see what comes out of it,” he said, adding that Cabinet will meet on Wednesday “and the topic may come up.
“But as I far as I know we were not privy to any of this,” he told CMC.
Reuters news reports that the charges stem from the arrest last month of Seng, who was accused of lying to U.S. customs officials about his reason for bringing US$4.5 million in cash into the U.S. from China between 2013 and 2015.
He said it was for gambling, buying art, antiques and real estate.