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Panamanian Government Cites New Tapes in Fund Fight With Noriega

November 15, 1990

MIAMI (AP) _ The Panamanian government cited a set of newly discovered taped telephone calls by Manuel Noriega when it asked a federal judge Wednesday to prohibit the ousted dictator from transferring any of his funds.

Attorneys for the new Panamanian government said one of the audio tapes obtained and broadcast by Cable News Network last week indicates Noriega tried to move millions of dollars around the world from his prison cell.

U.S. District Judge Edward Davis, who is overseeing Panama’s civil lawsuit against Noriega, did not immedidately rule on the request by Panama’s attorneys for a temporary restraining order.

The new Panamanian government has filed a $6.3 billion lawsuit against Noriega alleging he looted its treasury before U.S. troops deposed him in December 1989. The Panamania government estimates Noriega’s personal fortune, including property, is $300 million. About $20 million in Noriega bank accounts has been frozen in the United States and several other countries, U.S. officials said.

Davis said U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who is overseeing a separate criminal case against Noriega, told him earlier Wednesday there were no funds available to Noriega.

Washington-based attorney John Kester, representing the Panamanian government, argued any Noriega money that surfaced, except what was necessary to pay for his criminal defense, should be frozen.

″From the tapes, we believe that he’s making hundreds of telephone calls, apparently moving funds - he’s not just talking to his lawyers,″ Kester told Davis. ″For all we know, he’s on the phone right now moving money around.″

Noriega’s attorney in the civil case, Stephen Zukoff, said the court had no right to act because the violations alleged in the lawsuit all took place in Panama, not the United States. He also said Noriega could not be sued under the Geneva Convention.

″This court does not have jurisdiction,″ Zukoff said. ″General Noriega was brought here as a prisoner of war and is entitled to certain rights ... he does have certain immunity.″

Davis asked both sides to attempt a compromise on the money issue and set another hearing for Nov. 27.

Noriega is being held on drug-trafficking charges at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, where he apparently made the telephone calls that were recorded and later broadcast by CNN.

Update hourly