Sheri Yan with Bob Hawke and Frank Lowy. Photo: supplied Phil Scanlan, John Ashe and Sheri Yan. Photo: supplied
Sheri Yan and her husband Roger Uren, a former analyst at the Office of National Assessments. Photo: supplied
The queen of the -China social scene has been charged in New York with funnelling almost $1 million in bribes to the president of the United Nations General Assembly.
Sheri Yan – who had deep connections in the n foreign policy establishment and shuttled regularly between luxurious apartments in Canberra, Beijing and New York – remains in a US prison ahead of a bail hearing on Friday.
She and her husband Roger Uren, a media executive and former n intelligence analyst who was once tipped to be former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s ambassador to Beijing, have long been a fixture at n embassy events in Beijing. The pair recently moved their family base from Beijing to the Canberra suburb of Kingston, where they keep a valuable collection of Chinese classic and erotic art.
Underlining her deep ties to , Ms Yan was once also paid to act as a lobbyist by the ABC in her native China when the public broadcaster made an ultimately futile effort to secure local broadcasting rights for its overseas television channel Network.
She used her high level connections in and China to act as a go-between. Her office and online business profiles were plastered with photographs such as an encounter with former Labor leader Bob Hawke and billionaire Frank Lowy.
“You can trust her,” reads a glowing endorsement from Greg Rudd, Kevin Rudd’s brother, posted on Ms Yan’s LinkedIn page.
“She’s well connected in all jurisdictions and understands what works and what doesn’t work. Most important she is a woman of high morals and principle … and is the queen of entertaining and hosting. Sheri is always worth talking to.”
But in a dramatic turn of events Ms Yan, also known as Shiwei Yan, was arrested last week and accused by US prosecutors of making hundreds of thousands of dollars in payoffs to John Ashe, then a diplomat from the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
The money – allegedly spent by Mr Ashe on expensive Rolex watches, tailored suits and lavish first-class holidays – is said to be part of a conspiracy to curry favour for unnamed Chinese “security” and “media” companies, working across Macau, the Caribbean and Kenya.
Ms Yan is accused of making several large transfers to Mr Ashe, with US investigators citing private emails from Google and Yahoo accounts, obtained under warrant. In one email from 2012, Ms Yan is alleged to have written to Mr Ashe: “Dear John, a quick note to let you know that I will send first $300,000 to the account this week”. Mr Ashe later responded that would “start the conversation”, it is claimed.
Mr Ashe was elected to a one-year term as president of the General Assembly beginning in 2013, about the same time Ms Yan is accused of making monthly payments of $20,000 to him under the guise of a non-governmental organisation she headed, known as the “Global Sustainability Foundation”.
Prominent Melbourne businessman Phil Scanlan, the founder of the elite n-American Leadership Dialogue, initially was listed to sit on an advisory board for Global Sustainability Foundation, along with n insurance lawyer Ian Hutchinson.
Mr Scanlan could not be reached for comment, but Mr Hutchinson said he was “absolutely bewildered” by the criminal allegations against Ms Yan.
“I know Sheri very well and I’d be awfully surprised if they are true. I think she’s a woman of integrity and honesty,” he said.
Fairfax Media does not suggest any wrongdoing by Mr Scanlan or Mr Hutchinson.
Ms Yan, 57, is the daughter of a celebrated Chinese artist who, she said, worked with the People’s Liberation Army’s cultural troupe. She is known for being well-spoken, charming and impeccably dressed.
She met Mr Uren when he was working at the n embassy in Washington in the 1980s after she had left a state radio job in China to pursue her studies overseas.
Ms Yan helped Mr Uren research his well-regarded book about a reviled Chinese intelligence chief, The Claws of the Dragon: Kang Sheng – The Evil Genius Behind Mao, which revealed how the official kept a huge collection of erotic art seized by his Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.
Former Network chief Bruce Dover said he was introduced to Ms Yan in 2005 by her husband and she was later paid around $5000 per month as part of a bid by the ABC to secure broadcasting rights in the tightly controlled Chinese market.
“After about six months I wondered what we were getting,” Mr Dover said. “It was all talk and not a lot of progress, and we parted ways.”
Her arrest promises to shed light on the hidden connections between the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army, and n politicians, diplomats and business people seeking access to China.
Ms Yan had or claimed to have close links with several powerful revolutionary families in China, particularly in the military and propaganda systems.
For example, she said she could arrange interviews with the favourite daughter of Chairman Mao, Li Na, because they shared the same masseuse.
Those connections, real and imagined, were parlayed into diplomatic and commercial opportunities for a range of politicians, officials and business people.
Many of those connections were made at the n embassy, including at colourful parties hosted by former ambassador Geoff Raby, and Ms Yan has played an important role in facilitating relations before and since.
As well as building bridges, she was also known for breaking them, particularly with ambitious but naive ns who had no way of verifying the connections she claimed to have lined up behind her.