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Documents Say Noriega Reported Cartel Bribe Offer to DEA

February 13, 1992

MIAMI (AP) _ Manuel Noriega’s police told U.S. drug agents of the Medellin cartel’s $5 million bribe attempt, according to government documents presented Thursday by the ousted Panamanian leader’s defense.

Noriega’s police also provided tips to the Drug Enforcement Admninistration on problems faced by top cartel leaders Pablo Escobar and Jorge Ochoa, the reports showed.

The defense hopes the DEA documents will refute the prosecution’s charge that Noriega took the cartel’s $5 million bribe to protect the Colombian drug barons and turn his country over to their trafficking ring.

A June 1984 DEA report signed by DEA agent Thomas Telles shows that bribe attempt grew out of the Panamanian Defense Force seizure of large shipments of cocaine-refining chemicals on the way through Panama to Colombian drug labs.

″Gabriel Mendez, a Colombian citizen, approached PDF high-ranking officers and offered two million dollars to stop the ether and acetone seizures and three million dollars once the seizures stopped,″ said Telles’ report.

Mendez also threatened to withdraw $75 million of the cartel’s money from Panamanian banks, the report said.

″But the seizures continued after that date, did they not?″ lead defense attorney Frank Rubino asked Telles on the witness stand, showing a DEA list of major chemical busts after the bribe report.

The agent acknowledged that the chemical raids continued in Panama.

Telles, who ran the DEA office in Panama between 1984 and 1986, was asked to identify the reports. He said much of the information came from Noriega’s top drug enforcement aide Luis Quiel, who may take the stand later for the defense.

Another report showed that after Spanish police arrested Medellin cartel leader Jorge Ochoa and told Panama the alias he used, narcotics police tracked down a friend of the trafficker’s and grilled him for the DEA.

The Ochoa acquaintance, Guido Gonzalez, talked about Ochoa’s drug organization and his connections with Panama-based traffickers. He also said Escobar was most worried about a U.S. extradition request.

″Escobar ... is making efforts to prevent his extradition by financially supporting political candidates in Colombia whom he is associated with,″ Telles wrote to his superiors, based on the PDF’s debriefing of Gonzalez.

The December 1984 report also includes references to another man prosecutors claim was protected by Noriega, Panama’s former ″ambassador at large″ Ricardo Bilonick, who testified for the government.

Bilonick ″traffick(ed) cocaine between Panama and the United States,″ the Panamanian police told Telles. The government has claimed Noriega’s police never provided information on Bilonick.

The defense used other Telles reports in an attempt to shoot a hole in a two separate counts of the indictment based on the March 1986 voyage of the drug yacht Krill, which Noriega allegedly protected.

The Krill was caught by Colombian police in the offshore San Andres islands - and Telles acknowledged that in 1984, Noriega participated in a meeting with U.S. and Colombian drug agents to beef up anti-drug patrols there.

″Then the Krill was seized in the same area that was discussed by General Noriega?″ Rubino asked, but was interrupted by prosecution objections before Telles could answer.

Noriega, who surrendered to U.S. troops following the December 1989 invasion of Panama, could spend up to 140 years in prison if convicted on all 10 drug and trafficking counts he faces.

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