ST. JOHN’S, Antigua, Sunday October 11, 2015 – Former Antigua prime minister Baldwin Spencer has broken his silence about his acceptance of money from an ex diplomat charged in connection with a bribery scheme, saying he had no reason to believe it was dirty money and insisting that bribes were never necessary to secure an audience with him while he was in office.
Spencer, currently Leader of the Opposition, sought to clear his name amidst calls for him to resign, following the arrest of former permanent representative to the United Nations Dr. John Ashe on tax evasion charges linked to his alleged acceptance of US$1.3 million in bribes.
Ashe, who served at the UN mission between 1989 and 2014 and was president of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) from September 2013 to September 2014, allegedly received more than US$1.3 million in bribes in 2013 and 2014, in exchange for supporting Chinese business interests. It is also alleged that he shared some of his bribe money with politicians from Antigua, including the prime minister at the time, to secure an audience with them.
“While I am deeply saddened by the circumstances in which Dr. Ashe now finds himself, based on the court document, he gravely misrepresented the United Progressive Party (UPP) government by implying that bribe money was necessary to gain an audience with me or my colleague ministers. That was never the case during the 10 years of our administration,” Spencer insisted in a statement.
He added that he had absolutely no reason to distrust Ashe – a man recommended for a knighthood in Antigua and whose expertise in a number of critical areas was widely acknowledged – or be suspicious of the source of the funds he gave to the UPP during its 2014 election campaign.
“Dr. Ashe was asked for assistance in raising funds among persons and organizations of goodwill and, as such, I did not hesitate to accept, through him, donations for the exclusive benefit of the United Progressive Party,” Spencer said.
“I have never had reason to doubt Dr. Ashe’s integrity. As a senior, seasoned, and highly respected diplomat of more than 20 years’ good standing, Dr. Ashe served the Government of Antigua & Barbuda – both the ALP [Antigua Labour Party] and the UPP administrations – with distinction. During his tenure, this country benefited from a number of initiatives and alliances with friendly governments and organizations, and he never, at any time, gave me reason to look askance at him or the contributions he spearheaded.”
At the same time, Spencer said he never has and does not condone any criminal activity that resulted in donations to the UPP.
Spencer did not make any mention of the call for his resignation, but hit out at those whom he said sought to exploit the current situation “for political grandstanding”.
He insisted this was no time to gloat, but to reflect on what the development had done to the country’s image, the integrity of the UN, and to relations between Antigua and the United States and the rest of the world.
The ALP government as well as the UPP have both distanced themselves from Ashe’s alleged activity.
The 61-year-old has not been charged with bribery, only two counts of filing false federal tax returns because of his failure to declare the money he allegedly received. He and his wife underreported their income to the IRS by more than $1.2 million in tax years 2013 and 2014 alone.
But bribery and bribery conspiracy charges have been lodged against five others, including Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN for the Dominican Republic Francis Lorenzo, who allegedly facilitated the payments; and Ng Lap Seng, alias David Ng, a billionaire real estate developer from the Chinese territory of Macau who allegedly provided the bribe money.
Prosecutors say Ashe used the bribe money to support a lavish lifestyle that included spending $59,000 on hand-tailored suits in Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014; buying two Rolex watches in 2014 for $54,000; year paying $40,000 to lease a new BMW X5 later that year; and a $69,000 membership at a South Carolina country club.