WASHINGTON — Former Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord, the first witness in the Iran- contra hearings, testified today that about $3.5 million in Iranian arms sales proceeds was diverted to aid the contra rebels, and said he believed that the Reagan Administration "knew of my conduct and approved it."
Secord, breaking months of silence, told a nationally televised hearing that Iran paid $30 million for U.S.-made weapons. About $2 million remains unaccounted for, he said under questioning.
The retired general, testifying without the grant of immunity sought by other witnesses, said he and other private individuals he recruited for the effort "believed very much in the significance of what we were doing and that our conduct was in furtherance of the President's policies.
"I also understood that this Administration knew of my conduct and approved it," he said, adding that he was recruited to work in both the Iran and the contra efforts by Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, then an aide to the National Security Council.
Challenge by Inouye
The investigative sessions began as a key lawmaker bluntly challenged White House claims that President Reagan was unaware his aides were soliciting funds for the contra rebels at a time when government aid was banned.
"I think the President should check that statement," Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) said in a television interview hours before he brought down the gavel to open the most publicized congressional investigation since Watergate.
"I think he should look over the facts."
Secord has been identified by congressional investigators as playing a key role in both the secret sale of weapons to Iran--which Reagan authorized--and the diversion of part of the arms sale proceeds to the contras--of which the President says he was unaware.
Swiss Bank Account
Secord testified under oath at the afternoon session of the opening day of the hearings. He described at length a series of meetings with North, contra leaders and others involved in the eventual establishment of a rebel resupply effort and the creation of a Swiss bank account to hold private donations dedicated to the rebels and later Iranian arms sales proceeds.
Secord said his contra resupply effort was designed to establish an airlift project after CIA aid to the rebels was cut off by Congress in October, 1984. The goal was to "make parachute airdrops to various contra forces in Nicaragua," Secord said. "We either had to develop an airdrop capability or be forced from the field."
The retired general also said North sought his assistance in the fall of 1984 and asked him to contact an unnamed foreign official and seek a contribution to the contras. Secord said he raised the issue with an official he knew, who agreed to raise it with the head of his government.
Secord said he later heard that a donation had been made, but did not know for certain.
Breakdown of Funds
Secord agreed with the following breakdown of funds, as summarized by House attorney John Nields:
Iran paid $30 million to purchase American-made weapons, for which Secord had to pay $12 million. Of the remaining $18 million, $8 million rests in the custody of a bank or other institution.
Of the remaining $10 million, more than $3.5 million was spent for the benefit of the contras, $3 million was spent on expenses, $1 million was spent on activities not related to either Iran or Nicaragua, and about $2 million remains unaccounted for.
Secord said he reached that conclusion after studying detailed bank records that his business partner, Albert Hakim, has supplied to the congressional investigators.