Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Ashe acted in Official Capacity

As the case against Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng courses through Manhattan Federal Court, we're learning bits and pieces of information by way of discovery. Judge Vernon Broderick has set January 23rd 2017 as the commencement date of the trial against Mr. Ng. However, with a number of sentencing hearings of Mr. Ng's co-conspirators strewn out between now and then, we're getting more details about the massive bribery scheme that has ensnared a number of prominent individuals, including former Antigua and Barbuda Ambassador John Ashe, now deceased.

On July 11th, a conference meeting was held in Court where indicted co-conspirator Shiwei Yan appeared. Ms. Yan, through her lawyer Christine Chung, submitted Ms. Yan's "Sentencing Memorandum", which is essentially an argument to the judge before he administers his sentence (Ms. Yan pleaded guilty to a single count of bribing John Ashe and is scheduled to be sentenced July 26th).

The Memorandum laid out Ms. Yan's personal history, characteristics and expressions of remorse for having been part of the bribery scheme. Ms. Chung made several references to case law and sentencing guidelines used in the relevant cases she referenced. She also made some statements that we find quite interesting.

In laying out her case that the court should be as lenient as possible, Ms. Chung noted that the bribery which Ms. Yan was engaged in did not injure the public. She noted also that Ms. Yan did not keep any of the bribe money, implying that she was merely a conduit whereby Mr. Ashe was the beneficiary of Mr. Ng's money. "First, the bribery guideline is completely insensitive to the fact that Ms. Yan did not keep any part of the bribes or profit from the scheme. Under the bribery guideline, a defendant who committed the same crime as Ms. Yan but kept or gained up to $1.5 million would be assigned the same Guidelines range as Ms. Yan. Second, the bribery guideline treats as equally culpable bribe givers, middlemen, and bribe takers. Third, the guideline does not allow calibration for the difference between bribes that cause injury or bear fruit and those that do not. And finally, the guideline provides no way to adjust the range depending on who bears more responsibility for initiating or pursuing the bribes, such that Ms. Yan and Mr. Ashe would be treated the same, except for the two-level upward adjustment resulting from the fact that Mr. Ashe was a public official. This assumes, of course, that the government had ever sought to punish Mr. Ashe for bribery at all".

Ms. Chung is raising questions about the sentencing guidelines because her client faces at least 30 months in federal prison for the crime she pleaded guilty to. She is stating to the court that it is unfair because Ms. Yan would serve the same amount of time as Mr. Ashe, had been sentenced for the crime he was charged with. Ms. Chung pleaded for the minimum sentence to be imposed and, recognizing that court may want to "set an example", she suggested to the court that time already served in jail should be sufficient and that "any additional term of incarceration carries the risk of imposing unfairly on her disproportionately the weight of serving as an example". (Ms. Yan spent four weeks in federal prison and has been confined to her apartment for the past 8 months wearing an ankle bracelet). "There is no need to protect the public from any further crimes by Ms. Yan. She has learned extremely painful lessons, harbors paralyzing remorse, and will never commit another crime".

Ms. Chung, in her presentation, noted that Mr. Ashe was never charged with bribery, only with tax evasion, despite being the leader of the bribery scheme. She stated that was because the (US) government conceded to immunity enjoyed by Mr. Ashe. She went on to state that "Mr. Ashe's colleagues in the Antiguan government, who pocketed the bribe money with Mr. Ashe, have denied that there was any wrongdoing. They will likely never be held to account"

Ms. Chung tore into Mr. Ashe and officials of the Antiguan government. She characterized Mr. Ashe as the "leader and instigator who lined his pockets". Pointing to an internal United Nations investigation, she stated that the UN has "admitted that its own 'significant loopholes and blindspots' made it possible for Mr. Ashe to route millions to bank accounts, established by himself personally, that were outside of any UN or UN General Assembly oversight. And the government of Antigua and Barbuda, whose officials were purportedly 'corrupted' by the money Ms. Yan channeled to Mr. Ashe, has stated that it regards the actions of Mr. Ashe to have been 'in the interest and for the good of Antigua and Barbuda'".

Ms. Chung's reference to the government of Antigua and Barbuda's statements refers to the official replies given to the US State Department by Antiguan officials regarding clarification of Mr. Ashe's actions over a set period of time. The US authorities wanted to know whether Mr. Ashe was acting solely or in his official capacity, and as such, cloaked in his diplomatic immunity shield. The US requested that Antigua waive Mr. Ashe's immunity so that he could be tried on the pending charges. "The Antiguan government, members of which pocketed the bribe money, has denied its own misconduct. Specifically, that government responded in March 2016 to the US State Department's request that it waive Mr. Ashe's diplomatic immunity for the conduct alleged in the Complaint. It refused to do so and additionally characterized as 'official acts' of Mr. Ashe his conduct in advocating for the interests of CC-1 and CC-2, accepting an invitation to attend the Guangzhou conference from CC-3, and advocating for the business interests of the Foundations established by Ms. Yan. The government of Antigua and Barbuda has taken the view that the actions of Mr. Ashe were 'in the interest and for the good of Antigua and Barbuda'".

(Note: CC-1, CC-2 and CC-3 references apply to "co-conspirator-1, 2 and 3")

Here is the official Diplomatic Note from the US State Department to the government of Antigua and Barbuda (redacted to conceal sensitive information).

Here is the letter sent to US Attorney Preet Bharara by then Antiguan Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin.

Here is the official reply given to the US State Department.

Here is the letter from former Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer in response to a request from current Prime Minister Gaston Browne (redacted to conceal sensitive information).

Ms. Chung said that "among the methods that Mr. Ashe used to receive the illicit payments was to set up bank accounts bearing the name 'PGA' or 'President of the General Assembly', but controlled by himself and used by himself to fund personal expenses rather than any business of the Office of the PGA'". She described Mr. Ashe as the "hub and linchpin" of the bribery scheme, who constantly has his hand out. She stated that "Mr. Ashe's bribe-fueled efforts on behalf of Mr. Ng are alleged to have included ensuring that UN documents were altered, by UN personnel, to tout the Macau Conference Center". She continued; "First, the government alleged that within weeks of Mr. Ashe's first meeting with Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao in Hong Kong in April 2012, Mr. Ashe sought, and Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao had arranged to make a $300,000 payment from 'CC-1', a Chinese media executive, to one of the PGA accounts that Mr. Ashe had set up". Ms. Chung said that he (Mr. Ashe) "characterized the $300,000 payment that Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao had arranged as 'PGA funding' and 'contributions' but also 'a show of good faith' by CC-1 that would enable Mr. Ashe to 'start the conversation' with Antiguan officials, including the Antiguan Prime Minister, regarding 'the business aspects of [CC-1's] initiatives for Antigua and Barbuda'".

Ms. Chung continued; "Ms. Piao and Ms. Yan acknowledged the emails of Mr. Ashe that described his endeavors in Antigua, thanking him and stating that they had relayed his 'good news' back to CC-1. Without alleging that Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao were aware of the specific amounts, the Complaint (against Mr. Ashe) alleged that Mr. Ashe disbursed $100,000 of the $300,000 to the then-Prime Minister of Antigua and $13,000 to the Prime Minister's political party".

"Second, the Complaint alleged that after Mr. Ashe was elected President of the General Assembly in June 2013, Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao began sending $20,000 monthly to an account Mr. Ashe identified as his personal bank account. In the fall of 2013, Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao arranged for 'CC-2', purportedly a 'Chinese security technology executive' to send approximately $100,000 to one of the PGA accounts set up by Mr. Ashe to pay for a reception for Mr. Ashe. The Complaint implied that in December 2013, Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao arranged a second payment of $100,000 to one of the PGA accounts set up by Mr. Ashe on behalf of the Chinese security company. After receiving that payment, according to the complaint, Mr. Ashe arranged meetings between executives of the Chinese Security company and officials in Antigua which resulted in a 'signed MOU [Memorandum of Understanding]".

"Third, the Complaint alleged that, in October 2013, Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao arranged a $200,000 payment to one of the PGA accounts opened by Mr. Ashe 'in exchange for Ashe making an official appearance at a conference in China being organized by a Chinese real estate developer', identified as 'CC-3'. The Complaint described that also in the fall of 2013, Mr. Ashe purportedly appointed Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao as 'Advisers' in 'Economic Matters' to the Office of the President of the General Assembly and as 'Advisers' to the Office of the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda in matters pertaining to investments in Antigua'"

Ms. Chung stated that Ms. Yan, by her own admission, engaged in bribing Mr. Ashe for "selfish, prideful and unhealthy reasons". She stated that Ms. Yan was "flattered by Mr. Ashe's attentions and impressed by his title". She "aspired to be admired by Mr. Ashe and others as a 'successful, independent businesswoman' who could move in 'high-flown circles'". She stated that Ms. Yan's gullibility served her badly and that "Mr. Ashe was an affirmatively predatory individual who planned well ahead of assuming his office to trade on it to the fullest possible extent. He held his hand out constantly".

Ms. Chung stated that Ms. Yan admits to being a willing partner, but she was also a mark for Mr. Ashe. She stated that Ms. Yan and Ms. Piao gave Ashe the Chinese nickname of "the Giant" and they treated him as one. "He constant sought funds: saying for example, that Ms. Yan's and Ms. Piao's 'initial contribution' would be used such that 'any additional contribution(s) to the account...would be most welcomed'...or hinting that the 'initial resources' he had in hand 'have now been fully utilized'...or closing a paragraph about an upcoming concert at the United Nations that 'needless to say, this endeavour will require major resources'".

Ms. Chung did not spare the United Nations in her presentation. She noted that following the arrests, the UN conducted internal investigations, "audits" as she puts them, and issued "recommendations". She stated that it was clear to see that the UN failings facilitated Mr. Ashe's bribery scheme. "The UN Task Force of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon concluded in a report issued in March 2016, that Mr. Ashe's crime "occurred in an environment where there were significant loopholes and blind spots in the operational arrangements for the President [of the General Assembly] and the Office [of that President]". She continued; "among these were that the PGA is permitted to receive 'voluntary contributions from Member States, intergovernmental organizations, national institutions, non-governmental organizations, individuals and others".

As we mentioned, the case of United States v. Ng Lap Seng and is due to commence in January 2017. Francis Lorenzo continues to cooperate with prosecutors and Heidi Piao is scheduled to be sentenced later this year. Furthermore, the question arises; will Jeff Yin, Mr. Ng's able assistant, cave in and make a deal with prosecutors? 
From left: John Ashe, Francis Lorenzo, Roosevelt Skerrit, Ng Lap Seng
Photographed in Macau at just prior to the arrest of Ashe, Lorenzo and Lap Seng.

And what about Roosevelt Skerrit? From the very beginning, anecdotal references have been made to Dominica, and we know Mr. Skerrit has been intimately attached to Mr. Ng for at least a decade. We find it extremely difficult to believe that Mr. Skerrit's ugly head will not pop up somewhere in this trial. Mr. Skerrit is not known to be one to pass on an opportunity to line his pocket with illicit gains, and feeling comfortable as he does in Mr. Ng's pockets, we cannot imagine Mr. Skerrit not wanting to take advantage of the opportunity afforded to him. After all, Mr. Skerrit is the only one of the four who attended the UN conference in Macau at the end of August 2015, that remains on the loose. And we believe that is primarily because of his status as head of state. Did the US State Department send Mr. Skerrit a letter as well, asking for his cooperation? Time will tell us. In the meantime, we're keeping our eyes open.

Share this:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2014 Mas In The Cemetery. Designed by OddThemes | Distributed By Blogger Templates20