Former United Nations General Assembly president John Ashe, 61, died Wednesday, June 22, at his home in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

Ashe is originally from the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda, and served as president of the U.N. assembly from September 2013 to September 2014. 

He was arrested in October 2015 in a massive bribery case, accused of accepting $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese billionaire real estate developer Ng Lap Seng, a major Clinton Foundation donor.  Ashe had been in plea talks as recently as May, and reportedly was scheduled to testify in court this week. (Continued Below…)

John Ashe 1 Clinton

Ashe’s attorney in New York, Jeremy Schneider, first said his death was caused by a heart attack, then later said he did not know the cause of death.    Current U.N. General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft also said he died of a heart attack.  However, an autopsy report said he died in a weightlifting accident when a barbell he was lifting fell on his neck, crushing his throat.  The police department released a statement that the death appears accidental.

Reportedly, the Chinese businessman, two diplomats and a humanitarian organization officer were all charged in the case.  Several of his co-defendants had already pleaded guilty, including Sheri Yan, the head of a “little known New York-based foundation.”

US Politics: Ng Lan Seng, currently incarcerated in the U.S. on charges of bribery in the John Ashe case, has close ties to the Clinton family and the Democratic National Committee, not only being a major donor to the Clinton Foundation in recent times but also pleading guilty to a felony for illegal contributions to the DNC in a Democratic fund-raising scandal towards the end of Bill Clinton’s presidency and the beginning of Al Gore’s presidential campaign.

Clinton Foundation Donor Ng Lan Seng with Bill & Hillary Clinton.

Clinton Foundation Donor Ng Lan Seng with Bill & Hillary Clinton.

In 1998, a Senate committee reported Ng, of Macau, China, sent $1.1 million to Little Rock, Arkansas restaurateur, Yah Lin, who in turn contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic National Committee for years on Ng’s behalf. Ng’s relationship with the Clintons is well documented as he had visited the White House 10 times from 1994 to 1996 and had his photograph taken with President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, as seen in the attached photo from ABC News. Ng was also, according to court papers, served in July 2014 with a subpoena to appear Sept. 17, 2014 in connection with an unrelated investigation, but never showed up.

At a bail hearing Saturday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal described Yin, a U.S. citizen, as Ng’s right-hand man in his U.S. operations, someone who played a key role in transmitting funds.

It was Ng’s arrest in September of 2015 that spurred the investigation into John Ashe, who was then arrested in October of 2015.  Authorities discovered Ng had smuggled over $4.5 million into the U.S., then lied to Customs and Border Protection officers, saying the cash was for gambling and buying paintings.

Ashe was accused of accepting payments from Ng to spend on such luxuries as hand-tailored suits, Rolex watches and a $40,000 lease on a new BMW X5.   In one incident, prosecutors say Ashe took a trip in his U.N. official capacity to discuss a conference center that Mr. Ng wanted to develop after $200,000 had been wired to his private account.

The bribes were paid through “middle men” that included Francis Lorenzo, a suspended deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic, and Jeff Yin, Ng’s assistant, prosecutors said.  Lorenzo pleaded guilty in March, while Ng and Yin have entered “not guilty” pleas.

In addition, Ashe is accused of accepting more than $800,000 from other Chinese businessmen to “support their interests within the U.N. and Antigua.”   Ashe is also accused of passing on some of the bribe money to the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda “as he lobbied for the Chinese interests,” according to prosecutors.

John Ashe with his wife, Anilla Cherian

John Ashe with his wife, Anilla Cherian

Other bribes he accepted included payments to cover a New Orleans family vacation and construction of a $30,000 basketball court at his home.

Ashe held a doctorate in bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania.  He joined the foreign service in 1989 and was awarded the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George by Queen Elizabeth II in 2007 for his global diplomatic service, according to his UN biography.

He is survived by his wife, Anilla Cherian, and two children.