US Puts Noriega’s Wealth at $200 Million-$300 Million
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Calling him a man of ″shameless excess,″ a top State Department official said Thursday that Panamanian Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega has amassed a personal fortune of between $200 million and $300 million from drug trafficking and other criminal activities.
Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger made the allegation in response to a challenge from a Panamanian diplomat last week for the Bush administration to back up its claim that Noriega has a long history of involvement in drug smuggling.
Eagleburger spoke to a meeting of the Organization of American States’ permanent council, which was convened at a State Department request.
Much of his presentation was devoted to repeating charges contained in indictments returned by two Florida grand juries in February 1988.
But no administration official had ever before offered an official estimate of Noriega’s wealth.
″By conservative estimates, we judge Noriega’s personal wealth (much of it hidden in secret bank accounts abroad) to be at least $200 (million) to $300 million,″ Eagleburger said.
In response, an American lawyer for Noriega, Frank Anthony Rabino, said Eagleburger had failed to back up his allegations about wrongdoing with evidence.
″The government has not offered what they promised, which was proof,″ he said. ″They have again asked you and me and others to use our imagination, to let our dreams run wild and maybe we’ll find something evil in Gen. Noriega if we speculate, as they asked us to do, long and hard,″ said Rabino, who served as a member of the Panamanian delegation for Thursday’s meeting.
Rabino said much of the U.S. case against Noriega was based on the testimony of Steven Kalish, a one-time Noriega confidant and a convicted drug smuggler who was given a reduced sentence for his disclosures against Noriega.
In Kennebunkport, Maine, where President Bush is vacationing, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft told reporters the administration would be making a statement on Friday regarding the new situation in Panama.
Bush, in a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, said he was not giving up on the multinational diplomacy approach to oust Noriega. ″I am going to continue to work with the leaders in this hemisphere, most of whom feel as I do about Noriega, to see if we can’t help the Panamanian people get what they deserve. And that is a democratic society that stems from free, fair elections,″ he said.
A partial listing of Noriega’s assets include, according to Eagleburger, a $600,000 mansion in Panama City, a farm and an apartment in France, several luxury apartments in the Dominican Republic, various jet aircraft, including a Boeing 727 and three large pleasure yachts - ″The Macho I, Macho II and Macho III.″
″So let us put aside once and for all this contention that Gen. Noriega is a poor, humble honest man who has been unjustly accused,″ Eagleburger said.
He said the story behind last year’s indictments ″is simple and chilling. It is the story of that same shameless excess in the criminal field″ that, Eagleburger claimed, also has been demonstrated in the political field.
This was a reference to the decision of Panamanian authorities to void presidential elections last May after independent observers concluded that the anti-Noriega candidate, Guillermo Endara, had won by a landslide.
Eagleburger’s speech was prompted by an appeal last Thursday by a Panamanian diplomat, Romulo Escobar Betancourt, in which he asked that the United States back up its allegations about Noriega.
The occasion last week was an OAS foreign ministers meeting convened to discuss the possibility of promoting a democratic transfer of power in Panama. The OAS effort collapsed after three months, and the Council of State in Panama on Thursday appointed a new president, Comptroller Francisco Rodriguez, to take over on Friday. Noriega will continue as the country’s defacto leader.
In his speech, Eagleburger said, ″Noriega protected cocaine shipments from from Medellin, Colombia through Panama to the United States.″
He said that Noriega provided refuge and a base for continued operations to the members of the Medellin cartel after the murder of a Colombian justice minister in 1984.
″He agreed to protect a cocaine laboratory being constructed on Darien Province,″ Eagleburger said. ″And he assured the safe passage of millions of dollars of narcotics proceeds into Panamanian banks.″
In Kennebunkport, Bush said he and Mulroney had discussed the Panama situation Thursday. ″Clearly we’re not going to recognize Mr. Noriega. We’ve got sanctions in place that will continue. We are considering what additionally might be done,″ the president said.
″There’s a high frustration level; I’m ready to concede that. But we are not going to give up on this,″ Bush said.
He said ″no comment″ when asked if there was a coup movement afoot in the Panamanian military.
Despite Bush’s pronouncement that the administration is considering what further steps it might take, administration officials say privately there is little more Bush can do short of military intervention or kidnaping of Noriega, both remote possibilities.