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As Trial Resumes, Aide Describes Noriega’s Rise

September 19, 1991

MIAMI (AP) _ Manuel Noriega’s top military aide took the stand again today and told how the deposed Panamanian leader rose in the military by becoming the ″right- hand man″ of his predecessor.

Former co-defendant Luis del Cid, 47, said Noriega cemented his relationship with Gen. Omar Torrijos, the military ruler of Panama from 1968 until his death in 1981, by protecting him during a 1969 coup attempt. After that, Noriega became one of Torrijos’ most trusted confidants, del Cid said.

″He was the ears, the thought, the right-hand man of Gen. Torrijos,″ del Cid testified.

The trial of Noriega, who was removed from power when the U.S. troops invaded Panama in late 1989, got under way this week.

He faces up to 140 years on 10 drug and racketeering counts charging him with accepting bribes from the Medellin cartel to protect drug shipments, allow construction of cocaine labs and permit drug profits to be laundered in Panamanian banks.

Just before del Cid took the stand, Bahamian tourism official Cordell Thompson held a news conference outside the courthouse to again denounce government witness Max Mermelstein, who testified earlier in the week that he passed bribes to Prime Minister Lynden Pindling through Thompson.

Thompson said he had never met Mermelstein, to his knowledge.

″In the mad rush to get Gen. Noriega, no one’s name is safe,″ Thompson said.

On Tuesday, del Cid - who as a lieutenant colonel was one of the last commanders to surrender to U.S. troops after the December 1989 invasion of Panama - testified briefly that he delivered money from cocaine pilot Floyd Carlton to Noriega. No trial session was held Wednesday because of the Yom Kippur holiday.

Prosecutor Myles Malman spent much of the time asking del Cid to trace his career in Panama’s National Guard - renamed the Panamanian Defense Forces under Noriega - and his connections with the now-ousted Panamanian leader.

Under the February 1988 indictment, del Cid had faced a maximum 70 years in prison.

After highly public negotiations with prosecutors, he pleaded guilty in December 1990 to one racketeering count. The U.S. attorney’s office agreed to recommend no more than 10 years - and as little as three - when he comes up for sentencing after Noriega’s trial.

At the time of his guilty plea, del Cid said that in November 1982, he personally gave Noriega $100,000 in cash from Carlton, who is expected to be the prosecution’s star witness in the case.

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