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Defense Witness Denies Noriega Guns-for-Drugs Meetings

March 14, 1991

MIAMI (AP) _ A defense witness Thursday denied any involvement in key guns-for-drugs planning meetings with Manuel Noriega and his co-defendants, refuting a government witness’s testimony.

Orlando Villarreal Sr. had been listed as a prosecution witness in the trial of William Saldarriaga and Brian Davidow but took the stand for the defense.

The government’s star witness, Amet Paredes, had placed Villarreal at a series of meetings in Panama City that planned the March 1986 voyage of the drug yacht Krill. Noriega allegedly participated by speaker phone.

″I was never, ever in any meeting with anyone to discuss weapons, guns or drug deals to do with the Krill,″ Villarreal testified. He also said he had no dealings with the ousted Panamanian leader.

The Krill was seized by Colombian police at an island, and 700 pounds of drugs were found in hidden compartments.

Villarreal said he had no dealings with Noriega after his family lost out in a bitter power struggle in August 1983, badly hurting their business.

Paredes, the only other participant in the meetings presented by prosecutors, had testified that Villarreal, who operated a gun store, was to provide permits for 1,000 M-16 rifles to be shipped to Colombia.

But Villarreal said Thursday he had nothing to do with any permits, and had not even heard about them at the time.

Davidow’s defense attorney, Richard Sharpstein, emphasized that unlike Paredes, who was given immunity for his testimony, Villarreal was promised nothing. Villarreal has not been charged.

″No sir,″ he responded after the lawyer asked him if he had received any breaks or money for his testimony.

Villarreal also stated he had been telling the same version of events to federal prosecutors and the Drug Enforcement Administration since he was brought to the United States in 1987 to help with the investigation.

Paredes admitted on the stand that he had given six differing statements about the Krill, most denying he participated in it.

The government agreed Thursday that Paredes is the only witness to directly link Davidow and Saldarriaga to the meetings. Saldarriaga, however, allegedly has confessed his participation in the Krill deal to jailmates.

Villarreal’s son had testified for prosecutors to show Davidow’s alleged history of drug deals. But on the stand, the father contradicted his son about 22 pounds of cocaine from Davidow that was supposedly left in an apartment the Villarreal family owned.

Orlando Villarreal Jr. said his father had told him to move the cocaine, but the elder Villarreal testified Thursday he never knew the drugs were there.

The prosecution rested its case earlier Thursday after introducing a series of exhibits and putting Saldarriaga’s arresting officer on the stand. The government presented 20 witnesses in the trial, which began Feb. 25. The case is expected to go to the jury Monday.

Defense attorneys made routine motions Thursday for dismissal of the charges, but U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler denied them.

Noriega faces trial in June on the Krill and other charges.

If convicted, Davidow, 29, and Saldarriaga, 46, each face possible sentences of 40 years in prison on two conspiracy charges for the Krill shipment.

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