un john ashe corruption charges roth lklv_00001222.jpg
Former U.N. official faces corruption charges
02:44 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Ashe died of injuries while lifting a barbell

He was facing trial in a bribery scandal from his time at the U.N.

CNN  — 

John Ashe, the former president of the United Nations General Assembly in 2013 and 2014, died Wednesday while awaiting trial in a bribery scandal, police said.

Ashe, 61, died of injuries while lifting a barbell on a bench, the Westchester, New York, medical examiner’s office told CNN Thursday.

Earlier U.N. spokesman Dan Thomas told CNN that Ashe died of a heart attack. He now tells CNN that the information came from a newspaper report in Antiqua, as well as, a former colleague of Ashe’s. The medical examiner clarified Ashe died from traumatic asphyxia and suffered laryngeal fractures while lifting.

The completed autopsy report will not be available for approximately 16 weeks when standard tests are complete.

“Despite the many as yet unproven accusations made against him, Mr. Ashe was for many years a hard-working and popular member of the diplomatic corps in New York and at the United Nations,” current U.N. General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft said in a statement. “I know that his death will come as sad news to the many professional friends and colleagues he made during his time here.”

A federal grand jury indicted Ashe, a former diplomat for the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda, in October in a bribery scandal involving Chinese businessmen and bribes totaling more than $1 million.

At the time, Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, alleged Ashe “sold himself and the global institution he led” by pocketing more than $1 million in bribes to finance a luxury spending spree.

Ashe used the money to buy Rolex watches, custom suits, a BMW, a family vacation and even a private basketball court, Bharara said.

Ashe was accused of tax fraud in an alleged conspiracy involving five others, including a billionaire Chinese businessman and a former deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic, according to a criminal complaint.

Prosecutors accused him of under-reporting his income by more than $1.2 million.

The Chinese businessman, Ng Lap Seng, paid more than $500,000 in bribes to Ashe, according to the complaint.

Others charged in the conspiracy included Francis Lorenzo, a Dominican Republic envoy.

In March, Lorenzo pleaded guilty to bribery, conspiracy to commit bribery, money laundering, tax fraud and illegal bank accounts.

In court, Lorenzo agreed with government charges that he had helped channel bribes from Chinese businessmen to Ashe, who would then allegedly seek to use his offices to help set up a United Nations conference center in Macau.

Chinese businessman Ng Lap Seng, a Macau business developer, pleaded not guilty, but three of the other original defendants have now changed their pleas to guilty.

Also, Ashe allegedly pocketed more than $800,000 in bribes from various Chinese businessmen to support business deals in Antigua, according to prosecutors. Ashe allegedly shared the bribe money with a former prime minister of Antigua, the federal complaint said.

CNN’s Richard Roth, Ray Sanchez and Lauren del Valle contributed to this report