UN chief wants more transparency in assembly president's office after ex-president's arrest

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday he has established a task force to recommend measures to make the office of the president of the U.N. General Assembly more transparent and accountable following the arrest of former assembly president John Ashe.

In his first public comments on the scandal since Ashe was arrested Oct. 6, Ban told reporters he was "really shocked and very concerned" at U.S. tax charges against the former GA president, who prosecutors say is linked to bribery allegations involving a Chinese billionaire. Ashe, a former Antiguan foreign minister, has pleaded not guilty and is free on $1 million bail.

The secretary-general ordered an audit on Oct. 8 of two foundations supporting U.N. activities whose leaders are linked to the bribery case.

Ashe's alleged involvement has raised questions about the operation of the office of the General Assembly president, who is elected for a one-year term, with the post rotating by region. Presidents are paid by their governments and their office currently operates independently.

The allegations have also raised questions about the money the U.N. and its key players accept from outside entities, and how donations and partners are vetted.

Ban said Friday that he plans to draw up measures "to improve the conduct" of the General Assembly president's office based on the audit by the U.N.'s Office of Internal Oversight Services, internal U.N. discussions, and the recommendations of the small task force led by his chief of staff, Susana Malcorra.

Because the office of the GA president operates independently, Ban said he might recommend that the 193-member body adopt measures requiring the assembly to operate in a in "a transparent and accountable (way), with the highest integrity of ethics."