Noriega’s Drug Deals Not Authorized, Court Is Told

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Gen. Manuel A. Noriega may have been paid to spy for the United States, but he was never authorized to make the drug deals that led to his indictment on felony criminal charges, federal prosecutors contend in documents released Thursday.

Prosecutors admitted that Noriega was paid a little more than $300,000 by the U.S. government for information that ranged “from incidental information to the negotiating posture of the Panamanian government during the Panama Canal negotiations.” Noriega was head of Panamanian intelligence in 1978 when the Jimmy Carter Administration signed an agreement that gives control of the waterway to Panama on Dec. 31, 1999.

But in response to a defense request for classified U.S. documents, Assistant U.S. Atty. James G. McAdams III argued that much of the material was irrelevant to the charges Noriega faces. The former Panamanian dictator allegedly accepted $4.6 million from Colombian drug lords to look the other way as cocaine bound for the United States passed through Panama.


“The government again denies that Noriega was given direct or indirect authority to commit any act that is the subject of the indictment,” the prosecutor wrote in a motion filed earlier this month and released only after being censored by the Department of Justice.

In summing up what they perceive to be Noriega’s defense strategy, prosecutors assert that Noriega “generally admits the acts charged against him . . . (and) defends his role in those criminal acts . . . by insisting that he undertook them at the request of . . . persons in the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities . . . .”

Earlier this month Noriega’s attorneys, Frank A. Rubino and Jon A. May, filed a 107-page document that outlined a long history of cooperation between Noriega and the Central Intelligence Agency. In that document, Noriega’s lawyers said the former Panamanian ruler was paid more than $11 million from a CIA slush fund in exchange for overlooking many U.S.-sponsored illegal activities, including drugs-for-guns operations in support of the Contra forces in Nicaragua.

But in an effort to dismiss Noriega’s “public authority defense,” prosecutors said that “even if Noriega had been the United States secretary of state, he would nevertheless have been indicted if he had participated in the drug activities alleged in the indictment.” Prosecutors then went on to challenge the defense to name those who “directly, or even by a ‘wink and a nod’ told him he had authority to act in behalf of the United States.”

In another document released Thursday, defense lawyers requested a long list of personal property seized from two Noriega residences and his offices during the U.S. invasion of Panama in December, 1989. Many of the records pertain to Panamanian investigations of drug trafficking conducted at the behest of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.

But among other items sought are family photo albums, personnel files of bodyguards, diplomatic passports, $1,507 in counterfeit U.S. currency, records of telephone taps and three pornographic movies.


Also Thursday, Noriega co-defendant Brian Davidow, who in March was convicted of trading guns for cocaine in a deal that prosecutors charged Noriega had supervised, pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy charge in an unrelated case. Davidow, 29, the only American among 15 persons indicted with Noriega, is expected to testify for the prosecution when Noriega goes on trial July 22.

Davidow, a real estate salesman who faces a maximum sentence of 40 years in the first case, is to be sentenced on both convictions Aug. 30.