Treasury Agency Entertained Plan To Kidnap Fugitive
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A Treasury Department agency entertained a private lawyer’s proposal four years ago to arrange a ``clandestine kidnapping″ of a U.S. fugitive in Switzerland in exchange for $1 million, according to documents and interviews.
R. Richard Newcomb, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, asked his agency in 1992 to evaluate the plan being pitched by a suburban Washington lawyer who knew Newcomb, the documents say.
The proposal was abruptly dismissed after Newcomb’s chief of enforcement and the U.S. Marshal’s Service strongly objected, according to the interviews and documents.
The fugitive was billionaire commodities trader Marc Rich, who fled to Switzerland a decade ago after being indicted in New York on 65 counts alleging financial fraud, tax evasion and racketeering. The Swiss have refused to extradite him.
Kidnapping is a felony in the United States, but federal agents have seized fugitives abroad for trial in U.S. courts.
Newcomb, whose conduct in several cases is being investigated by a House committee, confirmed in an interview Wednesday that he was approached about the plan by lawyer Richard W. ``Peter″ Velde and asked his staff to meet with Velde to discuss it in July 1992.
``It was not something I could evaluate,″ Newcomb said. ``I don’t have routine contacts in that area. I asked my enforcement staff to evaluate it, and they came back in very plain terms and said it was not a good idea.″
Newcomb, who said he and Velde worked together at the Justice Department years ago, said he allowed his friend to make the presentation because ``he was someone I had known for a long time and someone I trusted.″
Newcomb said he concurred with his agents’ decision not to proceed. ``We listened. We dismissed it. That was it,″ he said.
Velde did not return a call to his office Wednesday. His interest in the fugitive Marc Rich was unclear in the documents.
Newcomb said his agency is interested in Rich for investigation of possible dealings with countries the United States bars business dealing with.
The kidnapping proposal raised eyebrows within OFAC, the Treasury agency that enforces embargoes, and again during an internal Treasury investigation of Newcomb last year.
OFAC criminal investigators ``were outraged at, not only the unbelievability in someone even suggesting a clandestine kidnapping of a U.S. person from foreign territory by private operatives, but the idea that Newcomb would provide a forum ... to present it,″ former OFAC investigator Stephen Plitman told the Treasury inspector general last year.
Plitman, who now works at the Customs Service, has a job complaint pending against Newcomb and was one of his boss’s harshest critics during the IG review.
Plitman’s immediate supervisor, then-OFAC chief of enforcement William Wasley, told congressional investigators recently he became so alarmed that the idea was even being discussed that he immediately wrote the Marshal’s Service, officials familiar with the testimony said.
Wasley said he got a letter back from the Marshal’s Service objecting to the plan and also wrote Newcomb a firm letter against the proposal, the sources said.
Newcomb said he was ``generally aware of the proposal. But I didn’t get into the specifics.″
Plitman, however, told the inspector general in his affidavit that a written contract was proposed during the meeting involving Velde and an individual identified only as ``Satch.″
The contract, according to Plitman, suggested ``private unnamed principals″ would kidnap Rich from Swiss soil, return him to the United States and the Marshal’s Service ``in exchange for a $1 million reward and 10 percent of any proceeds in fines and penalties recovered by the government.″
Plitman’s affidavit also referenced an exchange of letters between Wasley and the marshal’s service strongly advising against the plan. ``Wasley wrote a letter to Newcomb expressing disbelief in even considering such a plan,″ Plitman said.
The Marshal’s Service said it could not immediately confirm the letters.
The inspector general’s investigation uncovered several instances in which Newcomb met outside the office with representatives of companies under investigation by his agency. It also cited evidence that Newcomb had taken uncoordinated enforcement actions that may have compromised criminal investigations.
Newcomb’s Treasury supervisors have concluded he violated no laws or rules but have sent him a letter saying he should have avoided the meetings with investigative subjects.