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American serving as diplomat in U.S. can face trial, judge rules

AP

A U.S. citizen serving as a foreign diplomat from the Dominican Republic is not immune from criminal prosecution in a United Nations bribery scandal, a judge ruled Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick said Francis Lorenzo can be prosecuted in a bribery case that has also resulted in the arrest of a former president of the U.N. General Assembly and a billionaire Chinese businessman.

Lorenzo, who has pleaded not guilty and is free on bail, argued he is entitled to diplomatic immunity as an ambassador from the Dominican Republic.

The judge said Lorenzo’s interpretation of law would mean he could not be criminally prosecuted for any crime as a U.S. citizen even though the Department of State had not granted him diplomatic immunity. Broderick said diplomatic immunity was not designed to give diplomats with dual citizenship a “get out of jail free card.”

Broderick said Lorenzo could still claim immunity from prosecution for official acts taken in connection with his diplomatic position. He noted that Lorenzo is not subject to expulsion from the United States, as a non-U.S. citizen would be if he were accused of criminal acts.

“We are extremely disappointed,” said defense lawyer Brian Bieber. He noted that his immunity argument was the first time the 2nd Circuit had confronted the question.

He said lawyers now planned to review 1.3 million pages of evidence turned over by prosecutors and “move forward with our motion to dismiss the indictment on ‘officials act’ immunity grounds.”

Lorenzo, who lives in the Bronx, has been suspended from his position as deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic.

Lorenzo was arrested in the fall on charges that he participated in a conspiracy that prosecutors say caused more than a million dollars in bribes from Chinese businessmen to be given to John Ashe, a former diplomat from Antigua and Barbuda who served in the largely ceremonial post as head of the 193-nation assembly from September 2013 to September 2014.

Ashe, who is free on bail, has pleaded not guilty to tax fraud charges brought against him in the fall.

Prosecutors say Ashe was paid bribes to support projects including a Macau conference center planned by Chinese billionaire Ng Lap Seng. Ng, who is free on bail but subject to 24-hour guards, has pleaded not guilty to charges that he was behind the majority of the bribes.