Witness Says He Paid Noriega For Protection
TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A Colombian convicted of drug dealing testified Friday that he gave ousted Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega $4 million in cash for protection of a cocaine laboratory to be built in Panama.
Boris Olarte Morales has been a key prosecution witness in the trial of fellow Colombian Jose Abello Silva, who is charged with conspiracy to import drugs into the United States.
Olarte, 27, who pleaded guilty in May 1987 and has been cooperating with the government, said during defense cross-examination that he was smuggling marijuana and cocaine in 1983 when he met Noriega and asked him about doing business. He said he returned to Noriega’s home a few weeks later.
″I told him there were some people interested in opening a laboratory to process cocaine in his country and I asked him, was it within his power to protect that operation,″ Olarte tetified.
He said Noriega assured him he could provide protection.
Olarte said he delivered $4 million in two large suitcases to Noriega, and received 10 percent of the money for setting up the operation.
His payment of that bribe is cited in a 1988 indictment in Florida accusing Noriega of drug conspiracy.
Olarte said he returned to Panama in early 1984 to let Noriega know that his backers were unhappy with the protection.
″The people that pay him through me to protect the operation in Panama, they were kind of upset,″ Olarte said. ″I said, ‘You supposed to be protecting the operation over there’ and he didn’t.
″He said he protected what he was to be protecting, but his people was doing more than they were supposed to do.″
Noriega is accused in the 1988 indictment of agreeing to permit the Medellin cartel to establish and supply a cocaine laboratory in Panama. The indictment says a dispute developed between members of the cartel and Noriega over the seizure of that cocaine laboratory, despite payment by members of the cartel.
Olarte also testified during cross-examination Friday that he gave a fellow Tulsa jail inmate $20,000 as a down payment for an armed escape, in which armed mercenaries in helicopters were to help him escape from jail. He said the other inmate never carried through with the plan.
Olarte was indicted in Tulsa in 1986 for conspiring to import cocaine. He testified that after he tried to get out of jail, he agreed to plead guilty and work for the government by May 1987.
He said he then made a series of phone calls to drug partners in Florida and Aruba in which Abello allegedly got involved in the conspiracy.
Abello was indicted in September 1987. He was arrested in Colombia and extradited last October to face charges in Tulsa.