Audit finds UN deficiencies linked to alleged bribery case 
John Ashe, a former United Nations General Assembly president and U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda, exits the Manhattan U.S. District Courthouse in New York - REUTERS
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UNITED NATIONS:  An internal audit has found important deficiencies and lapses in the U.N.’s involvement with two foundations and several non-governmental organizations linked to an alleged bribery case involving former General Assembly president John Ashe.

The audit by the Office of Internal Oversight Services obtained early Monday by The Associated Press said the U.N.’s failure to check out certain NGOs before dealing with them put the United Nations’ “integrity, independence and impartiality” at risk.

The office gave the U.N. Secretariat a “partially satisfactory” overall result in complying with U.N. policies and procedures, saying “important — but not critical or pervasive — deficiencies exist.”

Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served in the largely ceremonial post of president of the 193-nation assembly from September 2013 to September 2014, is accused by U.S. federal authorities of turning the position into a “platform for profit” by accepting more than $1 million in bribes. The alleged conspiracy involves six others including a billionaire Chinese real estate mogul, two diplomats and a humanitarian organization officer.

Ashe’s arrest last October put a spotlight on the money the U.N. and its key players accept from outside entities and how donations and partners are vetted. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ordered the audit days later.

The Office of Internal Oversight Services gave several examples of the U.N.’s failure to check out foundations and organizations that exposed the world body to the risk it could be involved with organizations whose interests conflicted with the U.N.’s.

It said the United Nations Office for Partnerships accepted a $60,000 contribution from the Global Sustainability Foundation, whose leader Sheri Yan was an adviser to Ashe during his presidency and is accused in the alleged scheme, without performing any due diligence check.

There was no evidence of checks before projects were undertaken with the International Organization for South-South Cooperation whose president, Francis Lorenzo, a deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic, also has been charged in the alleged bribery scheme.

The Sun Kian Ip Group Foundation headed by Macau billionaire Ng Lap Seng, accused of lying about plans for $4.5 million in cash brought into the U.S. over several years aboard private jets, was also audited. Prosecutors say Ng wanted to build a multibillion-dollar U.N.-sponsored conference center in Macau as a sort of satellite operation for the world body.

The auditors said the foundation co-sponsored a forum on South-South cooperation in Macau in August 2015 with the U.N. Development Program. All participants, including some U.N. staff, received iPads worth at least $599 plus taxes — and three U.N. staffers kept them until after the audit was announced, which violates the U.N. policy on gifts.

It recommended that the secretary-general take “appropriate corrective action” against the staff members.

The auditors made a series of other recommendations including urging the secretary-general to ensure that all U.N. bodies check out NGOs, businesses, foundations and other civil society organizations before they are engaged as U.N. partners.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the secretary-general “is pleased that the audit … shows that many of the control systems in place within the organization were found to be working properly.”

But he said Ban “is concerned at the findings related to instances where proper procedures were not followed.”

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