Federal Judge Forbids Destruction of Iran Shipment Documents With PM-US-Iran-Contra Rdp Bjt
NEW YORK (AP) _ Federal employees may not destroy or conceal documents concerning shipment of U.S. weapons to Iran, a judge ordered in the case of 13 men whose prosecution has raised questions about Reagan administration policy.
U.S. District Judge Leonard B. Sand on Monday granted the document- protection request made by a defense attorney in the case of 13 people accused of trying to smuggle $2 billion in advanced U.S.-made weaponry to Iran.
″No person employed by the U.S. government, regardless of agency ... is to destroy, conceal or alter any document which relates to the shipment of arms to Iran″ either from the United States or any other country, Sand said.
He then adjourned the pretrial hearing for 10 days at the request of Assistant U.S. Attorney Lorna Schofield, who said, ″My office knows of no facts why this case should not proceed,″ but that it was ″our responsibility to evaluate″ recent disclosures about government-sanctioned arms shipments to Iran, some proceeds of which were channeled to Nicaraguan rebels.
Ms. Schofield did not specifically mention the arms shipments or the Contra funds but said, ″We are attempting to review this entire situation in light of recent disclosures.″
Sand said, ″I believe it is in everyone’s best interest ... perhaps in the best interests of the country as a whole″ to grant the delay.
The Washington Post, quoting sources familiar with the case, reported today that Attorney General Edwin Meese III, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and the CIA had approved prosecution of the 13 men netted in a ″sting″ operation.
The request for protection of documents came in light of reports last week that Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North may have destroyed documents relating to the U.S.-sanctioned arms shipments to Iran.
Col. North was fired a week ago from the staff of the National Security Council following the disclosure that up to $30 million from the arms deal with Tehran had been funneled to the Contra rebels. In addition, Vice Admiral John M. Poindexter had resigned as national security adviser.
Louis Aidala, attorney for Hans Bihn, made the document-protection request. Bihn, of West Germany, was among those indicted in five alleged plots to ship U.S. weapons to Iran. The defendants, including a London-based American lawyer and a retired Israeli general, have maintained they were told White House officials sanctioned the arms sales, which were never completed.
But prosecutors have denied there are records of any such agreement and claimed the defendants were caught in a government ″sting″ operation.
William Kunstler, attorney for defendant Nico Minardos, told Sand in court papers filed Monday that Sand has ″a responsibility similar to that accepted by District Judge John Sirica in the Watergate prosecutions...′ ′
″This is especially true when significant governmental misconduct on a global scale may be involved and it is in its interest to rid itself of a forum where the facts of misconduct can be developed,″ the papers said.
Sand called Kunstler’s claims ″premature.″
Minardos, a Greek-born U.S. citizen, has claimed he discussed a proposed arms shipment to Iran with Maxwell M. Rabb, U.S. ambassador to Italy. Rabb has denied discussing arms deals or U.S. hostages in Lebanon.
Sand has ruled that lawyers for Minardos may travel to Rome to take sworn testimony from Rabb.
The Post quoted sources as saying the U.S. Customs Service and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, consulted with Meese, Shultz and CIA officials shortly before seeking an indictment in the case last April to make sure prosecutors were not running afoul of any government operation.
They were told there was no problem with prosecuting the case, the newspaper’s sources said.