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Five Arrested in Money Laundering Investigation

April 3, 1989

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Two bank executives and three other people were arrested in the investigation of a Colombian-owned bank accused in the United States of participating in a money laundering operation, officials said.

Attorney General Carlos Villalaz on Saturday identified the bankers as William Guarin, a Colombian who is manager of the Banco de Occidente in Panama, and Clara Garcia, a Panamanian who is the bank’s operations manager.

He said the others arrested were Colombian pilots German Flores and William Perez and Alonso Correa, a Colombian who was on the plane that also carried Eduardo Martinez.

Martinez is one of 127 people charged in the U.S. case that involves more than a billion dollars in alleged drug trafficking and money laundering.

Martinez, of Medellin, Colombia, eluded capture Wednesday by hiding in a bank and then escaping after troops from the Panamanian Defense Forces surrounded the building, U.S. justice officials said.

Villalaz did not say when the arrests were made.

U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and FBI Director William Sessions announced Wednesday that authorities had broken up an operation that had laundered $1.2 billion in drug money the past two years.

U.S. officials said the operation was linked to Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel, which purportedly accounts for 80 percent of the cocaine entering the United States.

It was not clear if the pilots were the same ones U.S. officials said had been detained Wednesday in Panama with Martinez’ private plane.

The defense forces are headed by Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, the country’s leader, who is under indictment in Florida on illegal drug charges.

Villalaz said authorities had searched intensely for Martinez but ″unfortunately we haven’t been able to locate him.″

Nivaldo Madrinan, director of the National Department of Investigations, said Saturday that Martinez escaped ″because of the lack of coordination between the capture in Panama and the release of the news in the United States, where there was a news conference that was heard by the fugitive.″

Update hourly