WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration and Congress are investigating new reports that Nicaraguan rebels have submitted thousands of dollars' worth of phony and padded invoices to the U.S. government for non-military aid, U.S. officials said Monday.
The allegations, made by rival rebel factions and merchants who supplied the guerrillas, include charges that the contras charged the State Department for tons of food and thousands of uniforms that never existed.
"This is damaging stuff, even if only part of it is true," said a State Department official who asked not to be identified.
Congressional aides said that Democrats in the House hope to use the reports, along with other allegations of misconduct by the contras, to block President Reagan's request for $100 million in military and other aid for the anti-Sandinista fighters.
The charges, first reported by the Miami Herald, focus on two small rebel organizations based in Costa Rica--the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Armed Forces and a Nicaraguan Indian group named KISAN.
Officials of the largest contras group, the Honduras-based Nicaraguan Democratic Force, claimed that the Revolutionary Armed Forces and KISAN were submitting bills to Washington for more equipment than their troops could conceivably use. The Miami Herald quoted merchants in Costa Rica as saying that the rebels appear to have billed the State Department for more than they actually bought.
In one case, the State Department paid $25,870 for a purported KISAN purchase of 1,000 uniforms and 1,000 pairs of boots from a Costa Rican clothing store, government documents showed. The Herald quoted the store's managers as saying that they gave the rebels a written estimate for those amounts on an invoice form but were never asked to deliver the goods.
In another case, the State Department documents show a $26,766 payment for food to a small store on behalf of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, but the owner told the Herald that she had sold the rebels only about $370 worth of clothing.
State Department spokesman Gregory Lagana said he could not comment on specific allegations.
Committees in both the Senate and House are investigating a various charges against the contras, ranging from misuse of U.S. funds to alleged plots to murder their rivals.