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Noriega Banker: ‘If I Say Anything ... I’m Dead’

May 5, 1990

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Manuel Noriega’s self-described personal banker worried two years ago that he’d be killed if he testified before the U.S. Senate about the Panamanian ruler’s financial dealings, a tape recorded conversation shows.

″If I say anything about Noriega and it’s reported by the press, I’m dead,″ Amjad Awan said in a secretly recorded tape played Friday in his federal drug money-laundering trial. ″He knows that I know everything.″

The banker, uneasy at being subpoenaed to testify before the Senate in September 1988, said he could trace the flow of the dictator’s cash to accounts outside Panama.

″It’s a question of money, and I know exactly where he has what,″ Awan unwittingly told an undercover agent. ″And no matter how much he likes me, how much of a friend I am ... when it comes to money, when his back is towards the wall, you know.″

The tape concluded the 15th week of government testimony that Awan, four fellow bankers at the Luxembourg-based Bank of Credit and Commerce International and a Colombian laundered cash they knew to be drug proceeds.

Awan had no reason to suspect the friend he was chatting with at a plush Miami restaurant was an agent. For more than a year, Awan had helped Robert Musella move large amounts of cash from the United States to secret overseas accounts.

Musella, however, was the identity assumed by Drug Enforcement Administration agent Robert Mazur.

He told Awan on tapes already played at the trial that the money was coming from some of Colombia’s largest cocaine dealers. Awan said he didn’t care, that it wasn’t up to him to judge the morality of where the money came from.

Awan and the other defendants maintain their innocence. The bankers say they were victims of the Luxembourg bank management’s passion to expand and attract new capital.

Two divisions of the bank - one of the world’s largest private financial institutions, pleaded guilty to money-laundering charges when trial began in January. In a plea bargain, the Luxembourg bank forfeited $15 million in frozen assets and interest.

On the tape, Awan is heard questioning how the bank’s high-powered Washington lawyer, former Secretary of State Clark Clifford, was handling the Senate subpoena.

Awan expressed his fear that Clifford was about to sell him out to protect the Luxembourg bank and Clifford’s bank, First American Bank, from scandal.

Awan said the Luxembourg bank’s board was so anxious to keep him from talking and avoid scandal that it even urged him to get out of the United States, to transfer from his Miami office possibly to Paris.

The banker also predicted the bank would duck the subpoena by telling the subcommittee that no Noriega banking records existed in this country and that Noriega wouldn’t surrender the bank’s records in Panama.

Clifford later gave a similar response to Sen. John Kerry, the subcommittee’s chairman.

Records seized when the bankers were arrested showed at least $600,000 of Noriega’s money flowed from Panama to Europe through BCCI accounts at Clifford’s Washington bank.

Awan told the subcommittee in September 1988 that he once handled $23 million in Noriega’s personal accounts and said he deposited money for Noriega in accounts at First American Bank, where Clifford was president.

Clifford has denied any involvement by the Luxembourg bank in First American, other than some overlapping shareholders.

But on the tape, Awan said the bank owned First American despite a series of shareholders designed to conceal the bank’s ownership.

″The truth of the matter is,″ he said, ″the bank belongs to BCCI.″

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