The Senate voted Thursday to hold retired Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord in contempt of Congress for failing to allow congressional access to Swiss bank accounts that apparently were used to funnel profits from the Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan rebels.
The contempt citation, which was passed on a voice vote and without debate, allows attorneys for the Senate Iran- contra investigating committee to petition a federal court to compel Secord to provide the bank records.
If the court upholds the contempt citation and Secord continues to resist, the much-decorated former Air Force officer could be jailed until he opens the bank records or until the Senate committee decides that it no longer needs the records. His penalty, however, would be set by the courts, not by Congress.
Senate investigators have said that they believe that Secord's bank records would enable them to trace the flow of money from the Iranian arms sales to the anti-Sandinista rebels.
According to reports by the presidential commission headed by former Sen. John Tower (R-Tex.) and the Senate Intelligence Committee, Secord worked with his Iranian-American business partner, Albert A. Hakim, and White House aide Oliver L. North through a complex web of companies, Swiss bank accounts and a network of covert specialists. They are believed to have received at least $32 million from the Iranian arms sales, while also supplying weapons to the contras.
The Senate investigating committee has sought Secord's permission to look into the Swiss bank records because the government of Switzerland has been slow to open the accounts under the terms of a U.S-Swiss treaty. If the contempt citation fails to obtain Secord's cooperation, committee investigators are hoping that many of the same records will be available to them next month when Hakim is expected to begin cooperating under a grant of immunity from prosecution.
Secord has refused to comply with the Senate request on grounds that it violates his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. Specifically, he asserted that consenting to open the records could provide "a link" in a chain that might incriminate him in wrongdoing.
Suggests Asking the Swiss
In addition, Secord argued that Congress instead should seek the records from the Swiss through compliance with the existing treaty.
Senate attorneys argued, in response, that in several cases the courts have compelled Americans to waive the protection of foreign secrecy laws that otherwise would govern their overseas accounts. A committee report said that Secord was "disingenuous" in arguing that the records should be obtained from Switzerland, since he is known to have filed objections against compliance by Swiss authorities as well.
Secord, a 1955 West Point graduate, flew 285 combat missions during the Vietnam War and was involved in covert operations, according to the Air Force. He was appointed chief of the U.S. military assistance advisory group in Iran in the mid-1970s and later was chosen as the first non-civilian to serve as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Near East, Africa and South Asia, helping to set U.S. defense policy for 34 countries.
Target of Investigation
Secord, 54, resigned from the Air Force in May, 1983, after a federal grand jury investigated his relationship to former intelligence agent Edwin P. Wilson and two men who were granted Pentagon approval to operate a lucrative arms shipping trade to Egypt. Secord was not indicted in the case and repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, it was learned Thursday that the House and Senate investigating committees have voted to grant immunity against prosecution to a witness known as "Tomas Castillo." Castillo is an alias for a former CIA station chief in Costa Rica who is believed to have collaborated with North in assisting the Nicaraguan rebels at a time when military aid was banned by Congress.
Weigh Immunity Offers
According to sources, the panels investigating the controversy are also considering offering limited immunity to Manucher Ghorbanifar, the key Iranian middleman in the arms deals, and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, who helped finance them.
A decision on granting immunity to Ghorbanifar and Khashoggi has been delayed until after committee staff members can interview the two and determine whether the information they have to offer is important enough to warrant the protection, a source said.
Staff writer Karen Tumulty contributed to this story.