U.S. Woman Agrees to Aid UN Probe Prosecutors After Plea

  • Prosecutors secure first conviction in corruption investigtion
  • Piao says she schemed with others with win Ashe's support

U.S. prosecutors secured their first conviction in a sweeping probe of corruption at the United Nations after a woman pleaded guilty to paying bribes to a former president of the UN General Assembly in an attempt to win his influence.  

Heidi Hong Piao, who is cooperating with prosecutors, told a federal judge in New York that she and foreign businessmen, whom she didn’t name, paid bribes to John Ashe. They sought to promote their agenda at the United Nations and with officials in Ashe’s home country of Antigua. Prosecutors allege that Piao was seeking to land a contract for a company with which she was affiliated.

“The monetary payments were made with the intent of influencing Ashe,” Piao told U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick. “The payments also included money that was intended to pay officials in Antigua to influence their official actions -- for example, so the officials would enter into a contract with a foreign company.”

Ashe has also been charged in the case. Prosecutors said he filed false tax returns by hiding from the Internal Revenue Service more than $1.2 million in bribes and solicited payments to pay for a private basketball court at his home in suburban New York. He denies wrongdoing. Herve Gouraige, his lawyer, didn’t immediately return voice-mail or e-mail messages seeking comment about Piao’s statements in court.

Money Laundering

Piao, 52, pleaded guilty to bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and other charges on Thursday in a scheme that she said dated to early 2012. She faces as long as 60 years in prison but is seeking leniency by cooperating against Ashe, Ng Lap Seng, a Macau billionaire, and Francis Lorenzo, the former deputy ambassador to the UN for the Dominican Republic. Seng and Lorenzo have pleaded not guilty.

Piao didn’t name the country where the businessmen were located. Federal prosecutors said when they announced the case in October that Chinese businessmen paid Ashe more than $800,000 through Piao and Lorenzo.

Prosecutors also claim that Piao paid Ashe about $20,000 a month to be "Honorary Chairman" of a New York-based non-governmental organization which was purportedly formed to promote the UN’s sustainable development goals. 

Piao and her lawyer, Michael Himmel, declined to comment after the hearing.

The case is U.S. v. Ashe, 15-cr-706, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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