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Dominican Republic's deputy U.N. ambassador charged in major bribery case

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announces an indictment against six United Nations individuals during a news conference, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 in New York. Former United Nations General Assembly President John Ashe accepted more than $500,000 in bribes from a Chinese real estate mogul and other businesspeople in exchange for help obtaining lucrative investments and government contracts, according to federal court documents unsealed Tuesday.  (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announces an indictment against six United Nations individuals during a news conference, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 in New York. Former United Nations General Assembly President John Ashe accepted more than $500,000 in bribes from a Chinese real estate mogul and other businesspeople in exchange for help obtaining lucrative investments and government contracts, according to federal court documents unsealed Tuesday. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Two high-ranking United Nations officials and four others face conspiracy and bribery-related charges in a so-called "platform for profit" deal.

The six are accused of taking part in a "platform for profit" scheme in which one of the suspects allegedly accepted $1 million in bribes and a trip to New Orleans in exchange for lucrative investment deals, investigators said.

John Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served in the largely ceremonial post from September 2013 to September 2014, and Francis Lorenzo, a deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic who lives in the Bronx, are two of the six who face criminal charges in a case that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara noted could include many more people.

"We will be asking: Is bribery business as usual at the U.N.?" Bharara said. "I wouldn't be surprised if we see other people charged."

The prosecutor added that Ashe "converted the United Nations into a platform for profit" when bribery opportunities were dangled before him by Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng, 67, and others.

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Lorenzo, who faces one count of conspiracy to bribe a U.N. official and one count of payment of bribes, is accused of acting as the middleman between Ng and Ashe to facilitate the bribes.

Brian Bieber, an attorney for Mr. Lorenzo, told the Wall Street Journal that he was examining the government’s complaint and a detailed explanation would be forthcoming.

"Ambassador Lorenzo at all times acted in good faith," Mr. Bieber said. "Ambassador Lorenzo trusted the people he surrounded himself with and relied on their integrity in all of his dealings."

A message for comment left at Lorenzo's mission was also not immediately returned, but a spokesperson for the United Nations expressed grave concern on the matters.

"We obviously just learned of the very serious allegations this morning," Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told reporters. Dujarric said Ki-moon was "shocked and deeply troubled" by the allegations that "go to the heart and integrity of the U.N."

Still, he challenged Bharara's claims, saying, "Corruption is not business as usual at the U.N." He said the U.N.'s legal department and senior officials were not informed of the probe in advance.

Dujarric noted that the president of the General Assembly "does not report to the secretary-general and is completely independent in functions." He said the U.N. had not found any documentation of the claims involving Macau.

Those charged in the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court included Seng, who was arrested two weeks ago along with his chief assistant, Jeff C. Yin, 29, a U.S. citizen whose bail was revoked last week over allegations that he lied to investigators after his arrest.

Lawyers for Ng, Yin and Lorenzo, 48, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. It was not immediately clear who would represent Ashe at an initial court appearance Tuesday.

Diego Rodriguez, head of the FBI's New York office, said the charges should be a warning "to those who come to the United States from other countries with corruption plans or bags full of cash."

According to court papers, the 61-year-old Ashe used his U.N. positions to support a multibillion-dollar U.N.-sponsored conference center that Ng hoped to build as his legacy in Macau, where he lived, and to help Ng meet government officials from Antigua. Prosecutors said the conference center would function as a sort of satellite operation for the world body.

The scheme unfolded over the course of nearly three years, from 2011 through 2014, prosecutors said.

Ng and his assistant had been held by federal authorities on charges they lied about plans for $4.5 million in cash brought into the U.S. over several years aboard private jets.

Prosecutors say some bribe money funded first-class airfare for Ashe, his wife and two children to New Orleans, where they stayed in an $850-a-night hotel room.

Other money, they said, was used to lease a luxury car, pay his home mortgage, buy Rolex watches and custom suits, and construct a $30,000 basketball court at his home in Dobbs Ferry, New York, where he was arrested Tuesday. He opened two bank accounts to receive the funds and then underreported his income by more than $1.2 million, officials said.

No one answered a phone call to the mission for Antigua; Ashe is no longer listed in the U.N. directory. A message left with a representative for the General Assembly wasn't immediately returned.

Prosecutors said two other arrested individuals were involved with Ng. They were identified as Sheri Yan, 57, and Heidi Park, 52, both naturalized U.S. citizens who reside in China and helped facilitate the scheme, prosecutors said. It wasn't clear who was representing them.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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