Coroner: Former UN official John Ashe died when barbell fell on his neck

A former president of the U.N. General Assembly awaiting trial in a bribery scandal died in a weightlifting accident when a barbell he was lifting from a bench dropped on his neck, an autopsy revealed Thursday.

John Ashe was declared dead late Wednesday afternoon by a paramedic who responded to his Dobbs Ferry home.

Dr. Kunjlata Ashar, Westchester County’s medical examiner, said the cause of death – traumatic asphyxia – was determined during an autopsy, though she did not perform the procedure herself and did not have additional details. It was deemed an accident based on a combination of information from the autopsy and an investigation by the Dobbs Ferry Police Department, officials said.

The police department said in a statement that the death appears accidental, but provided little information otherwise.

Ashe, the former United Nations ambassador from the twin-island Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, was arrested last fall and had pleaded not guilty to tax charges related to a bribery scandal. His attorney said he was planning to go to trial.

In a statement Wednesday, current U.N. General Assembly President Mogens Lykketoft described Ashe as a “hard-working and popular member of the diplomatic corps in New York and at the United Nations” before he faced the unproven allegations. He had said Ashe died of a heart attack.

Prosecutors said a billionaire Chinese businessman and others had funneled over $1 million to Ashe while he served as president of the 193-nation assembly from September 2013 to September 2014. The billionaire Chinese real estate maven, two diplomats and a humanitarian organization officer were among others charged in the case.

Ashe’s attorney, Jeremy Schneider, called his client’s death “a tragic loss for his family and the community.”

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