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Noriega Tape Transcripts Show Codes, Political Interest With PM-Noriega Tapes-Excerpts

December 7, 1990

MIAMI (AP) _ Some of Manuel Noriega’s taped prison conversations were in code, including passages in which the deposed Panamanian dictator apparently discussed frozen funds, court transcripts show.

Many of the conversations included in transcripts released by a federal judge Thursday dealt with family affairs, but some apparently involved money transfers and others showed Noriega followed Panamanian politics after he was ousted during a U.S. invasion in December 1989. Among the apparently coded calls was one by Noriega to the Cuban Embassy in Panama.

The government tapes, some of which were broadcast by CNN last month, triggered a battle pitting freedom of the press against Noriega’s right to a fair trial.

After first ordering CNN to halt the broadcasts, U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler ruled last week that the tapes were harmless to Noriega’s defense, and allowed the network to resume the broadcasts.

This week, the judge agreed to a request by media organizations to release court transcripts of the tapes, over the objections of CNN. The network dropped its objections Wednesday.

In one transcript, Norma Amado, mother of Noriega’s mistress, talked in apparent code with him about why ″the man″ had not arrived. The conversation appeared to be about frozen funds.

Amado said the man would go elsewhere because ″it’s not frozen there ... since we are all frozen here and over there it wouldn’t be a problem.″

She also discussed the need for ″a good towel ... and the important thing is it shouldn’t be a hand (towel.)″

CNN has said that conversation also included coded discussions about the transfer of $4 million.

In a call to the Cuban Embassy, Noriega said he would send a facsimile transmission ″so you can grab it and pass it on to the grandfather.″

Another transcript had Noriega urging an unidentified man to encourage opposition to the new Panamanian government.

″We must explain ... that one must unite, that there are people with ambition that are now going to take over the party,″ he said.

The transcripts included five tapes, most containing several conversations.

In one previously telecast conversation, Noriega speculated about two potential government witnesses with his lawyer’s secretary, who was translating for a defense investigator. That conversation triggered the original objection by Noriega’s attorneys, who said broadcastingit would violate lawyer-client privilege and hurt his chances of getting a fair trial.

The transcripts showed that Noriega was commenting on an article in El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language edition of The Miami Herald, about the arrest of the two men, Alfredo Sanchez and Felipe Camargo.

The news organizations that went to court for the transcripts were The Miami Herald, The Associated Press, Post-Newsweek station WPLG-TV of Miami and Gannett Co. Inc. and USA Today, which Gannett owns. They argued that the public has a right to examine the content of tapes that ignite a free-speech controversy.

Noriega’s defense team claims the Panamanian government gave the tapes to CNN after receiving them from the U.S. government. Taping prisoners telephone calls is legal.

Noriega is awaiting trial on drug trafficking charges the he took $4.6 million in payoffs to protect the cocaine trade passing through Panama from Colombia to the United States.

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