By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A United Nations-focused news outlet linked to what U.S. authorities call a scheme to bribe a former U.N. General Assembly president on Wednesday denied prosecution claims that Chinese government officials were involved in its development.
The denial from South-South News, which publishes articles related to the U.N. and development issues, came after a federal prosecutor on Monday said evidence had linked Chinese officials to the media outlet.
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Prosecutors had previously said South-South News was used to funnel bribes from Ng Lap Seng, a billionaire real estate developer from Macau, to former General Assembly President John Ashe.
In its statement on Wednesday, New York-based South-South News said it "unequivocally rejects" allegations that Chinese officials were involved in developing South-South News.
"We have no connection with the Chinese government or any other government at any level," South-South News said.
A spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is pursuing the case, declined to comment. A lawyer for Ng, Tai Park, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The news of an alleged Chinese government link in the case came after Ashe, a former U.N. ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda who served as General Assembly president from 2013 to 2014, died in an apparent weight-lifting accident last week.
He was among seven people, including Ng, charged since October in what prosecutors say is an ongoing investigation into the scheme in which Ashe took $1.3 million in bribes from Chinese businessmen.
Prosecutors said those bribes included more than $500,000 from Ng in exchange for, among other things, Ashe seeking U.N. support for a U.N.-sponsored conference center in Macau that Ng's company would develop.
The bribes included a $2,500-per-month job at South-South News for Ashe's wife, the prosecutors said.
The job was arranged by Francis Lorenzo, a suspended deputy U.N. ambassador from the Dominican Republic and South-South News' former president who prosecutors say acted as an intermediary. Lorenzo pleaded guilty in April.
At Monday's hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Richenthal said Chinese officials were involved in developing South-South News, including discussions about what agenda it might advance.
The United Nations has been reviewing the accreditation status of South-South News. That process is still ongoing.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)