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Noriega’s Banker Tells of Secret Accounts, Millions in Deposits

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel A. Noriega insisted on “strict confidentiality” when he opened a coded account in the early 1980s at the scandal-plagued Bank of Credit & Commerce International, the former dictator’s personal banker testified Thursday.

Amjad Awan, 44, a Pakistani-born banker who was convicted of money laundering after a lengthy trial in Tampa, Fla., last year, told jurors at Noriega’s drug smuggling and racketeering trial here that the Panamanian strongman’s financial affairs were under tight security. He even kept from fellow bank employees that the general was depositing millions of dollars in what eventually became four secret accounts, the witness said.

Awan took the witness stand late Thursday--and will continue his testimony next week--as the government nears the conclusion of its nearly three-month case against Noriega. Within another week or 10 days, Noriega’s lawyers will begin presenting their defense.

Prosecutors hope that Awan can demonstrate through records and bank ledgers that Noriega funneled between $20 million and $30 million through BCCI, leaving a “paper trail” of the payoffs that previous witnesses have claimed he received from Colombia’s notorious Medellin drug cartel.

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During a four- to five-year period in the middle 1980s, when Noriega allegedly was allowing drug traffickers a safe haven for their U.S.-bound shipments of cocaine, his official military salary seldom exceeded about $50,000 a year, federal attorneys have said.

Awan, dressed in gray prison clothing, said that several years after first opening Noriega’s Panama City accounts in January, 1982, the bank--at Noriega’s urging--transferred the accounts to its London branch to guarantee that his affairs were far away from the prying eyes of Panamanian bank employees.

In response to questions from chief prosecutor Michael P. Sullivan, Awan said that the deposits always were in cash, which usually was brought to his private office at BCCI in suitcases or briefcases.

Enrique Pereira, a former associate of Noriega’s, told jurors last month about two trips he made to Awan’s office with cash deposits. Pereira said that he waited while Awan and his staff counted the money and gave him a receipt for Noriega.

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