Defense Lashes Out At BCCI Prosecutors
NEW YORK (AP) _ Robert Altman’s attorneys lashed out at prosecutors in the BCCI case Wednesday, accusing them of misconduct and withholding important evidence they say would clear Altman from a key fraud charge.
The second day of Altman’s trial got off to a stormy start when defense attorney Gustave Newman accused the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office of misconduct based on a newspaper report. New York State Supreme Court Judge John A.K. Bradley imposed a gag order on attorneys from both sides, as well as Altman family members.
Newman objected based on an account of the trial’s opening day carried in Wednesday’s editions of The New York Times. The newspaper reported that outside the courtroom on Tuesday, prosecutors said an unidentified former BCCI executive would testify he was with former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford and Altman when they discussed defrauding American banking regulators.
Newman requested a mistrial because the Times article identified a potential witness and summarized his expected testimony. He charged the prosecutors’ newspaper interview was a deliberate effort to influence the jury.
A key charge against Altman, 46, is that he, Clifford and Bank of Credit and Commerce International executives participated in an elaborate scheme to mislead regulators about BCCI’s secret control of a major Washington D.C. bank, First American Bankshares Inc.
Clifford served as chairman and Altman president of First American Bank from the early 1980s until 1991.
Altman faces state charges of receiving bribes, defrauding regulators and depositors and submitting false documents.
John Moscow, the assistant District Attorney prosecuting the case, said a Times reporter telephoned late Tuesday seeking details about his opening statement concerning a BCCI officer. Moscow said he ″confirmed the marginal fact″ that the potential witness is a former BCCI officer, but denied telling the Times the witness was, as the newspaper termed it, a ″smoking gun″ in the case.
Moscow referred to Dildar Rizvi, a former BCCI officer who expected to testify.
Judge Bradley, who didn’t rule on Newman’s mistrial motion, ordered Moscow to interview his staff to determine whether they made such a statement to the newspaper. Bradley also said he would poll jurors to determine whether they had read the Times account.
Bradley also granted a defense request to postpone the trial until April 13 once Thursday’s testimony is finished. That ruling came after William Shields, another defense attorney, bitterly complained that prosecutors turned over a key document at the last minute. Shields contends the document, which he received Tuesday night, clears Altman of a major charge in the case.
″I submit it is a bullet in the head of the prosecutor’s case,″ Shields said.
He referred to a 1983 memo from the New York State Banking Department that said they knew of a relationship ″at the holding company level″ between BCCI and First American Bankshares’ holding company but there were no operations shared by the two. Shields said the memo supports the defense position that Altman didn’t defraud regulators because they fully knew about the relationship between BCCI and First American.
Shields said another set of documents showed the Federal Reserve didn’t make it a priority for examiners to ask First American about BCCI during yearly bank examinations.
Shields complained these documents should have been turned over to the defense earlier and suggested prosecutors deliberately withheld the papers.
″I don’t think it was any accident I got these documents last night,″ Shields said.
Newman then approached the judge and angrily charged prosecutors were deliberately rushing the trial. ″This is a farce,″ he yelled.
″The reason they want to hurry this case is to ensure this man does not have a fair trial,″ Newman said, pointing at Altman.
Moscow, the prosecutor, responded that he received the documents in the mail Tuesday afternoon and promptly shared them with Altman’s lawyers.
Bradley’s decision to delay the trial amounted to a victory for defense attorneys, who have repeatedly complained they weren’t given sufficient time to review thousands of documents and prepare.
Once the jury returned, Newman concluded his opening statement, elaborating on charges that Altman is merely a scapegoat for regulators who mishandled the BCCI affair.