by Michael Isikoff, Washington Post 1991
The Medellin cartel, once branded by U.S. officials as the world's
most violent and powerful drug-trafficking organization, made a $10
million contribution to the U.S.-backed contra guerrillas fighting
during the 1980s to overthrow Nicaragua's Sandinista government, a
former cartel leader testified today.
In startling new testimony
at the trial of deposed Panamanian leader Manuel Antonio Noriega,
convicted smuggler Carlos Lehder, one of the founding members of the
Colombian cartel, also implicated top political figures in the Bahamas
and Colombia -- major U.S. allies in the war on drugs -- in cartel
The testimony creates a problem for federal
prosecutors who have vouched for his credibility and used him as a key
witness in their drug-trafficking and racketeering case against Noriega.
described by U.S. government officials as the most notorious cocaine
trafficker ever apprehended, Lehder was sentenced in 1988 to life plus
135 years. He acknowledged yesterday that he was testifying for the
government in hopes of winning a reduced sentence that will allow him to
return to Colombia. "As a foreigner, I believe eventually I will be
deported back to my country before I die," he said.
comments about the cartel's links to the contras could prove invaluable
to Noriega's lawyers, who are expected to argue that the Central
Intelligence Agency deliberately overlooked and even condoned close
connections between the contras and drug traffickers allegedly
affiliated with Noriega.
Lehder provided no details about the
cartel's alleged financial contributions to the contras and appeared to
give the testimony reluctantly under relentless cross-examination by
Frank Rubino, Noriega's lead attorney.
whether the cartel had shipped cocaine to the United States using the
Costa Rican ranch of American John Hull, a principal figure in the
secret contra resupply network organized by then-White House aide Oliver
L. North, Lehder said that "could have been" true but that he had no
direct knowledge of it.
Then Rubino asked whether the cartel had
contributed directly to the contras. "To the best of my recollection,
there was some contribution to the contra anti-communist movement,"
Lehder replied. "It could be around $10 million."
Asked if he personally participated in the contribution, Lehder responded, "Apparently, I did."...
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