WASHINGTON — A former top military aide to Manuel A. Noriega has tentatively agreed to plead guilty to one drug-trafficking charge and will testify for the government against the deposed Panamanian dictator, sources close to the case said Wednesday.
The agreement with Lt. Col. Luis A. del Cid of the Panama Defense Forces is a significant development for federal prosecutors. The officer and former confidant to Noriega reportedly can testify that he personally delivered hundreds of thousands of dollars in drug profits to his commander-in-chief.
The government previously had enlisted witnesses who can testify about Noriega's alleged involvement in an international cocaine-smuggling ring, including testimony that money for Noriega was delivered, on his orders, to Del Cid.
"Now Del Cid can close that loop for the government," one source said.
Del Cid, facing four felony drug charges, has been in U.S. custody in Miami since he surrendered to U.S. forces in Panama in late December. Noriega, incarcerated in the same federal facility as Del Cid, has been in custody since Jan. 3. He has been indicted on 11 felony charges.
Del Cid's attorney, Samuel I. Burstyn, said in a telephone interview that "we have hammered out a basic agreement (on a guilty plea) that soon will be reduced to writing." The agreement should be presented within several days to a federal judge for his approval, Burstyn said.
While Del Cid has faced a possible maximum prison term of 70 years if convicted on all four counts, he probably would serve "about 2 1/2 years on his proposed guilty plea to one count," his attorney said.
In the 1988 indictment, Del Cid is accused of accepting $200,000 in cocaine-trafficking profits from drug pilot Floyd Carlton-Caceres, now the prosecution's chief witness. Carlton has said the funds were being paid to Noriega through Del Cid on behalf of the notorious Medellin cartel of Colombia, whose operations in Panama allegedly were being protected by Noriega.
Del Cid's plea agreement, if formalized, would be the second in recent weeks. Last month, Eduardo Pardo, another pilot and protege of Carlton, pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges for allegedly flying $800,000 in drug proceeds from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Panama City in May, 1983.
Del Cid's agreement would not include a specific promise to testify against Noriega, one source said. But since he would waive any Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, the government would have the ability to compel his testimony at Noriega's trial, now scheduled for next January in Miami.
Meanwhile, prosecutors were upset to learn Wednesday that a seven-minute videotape had been made secretly of Noriega in his heavily guarded cell and was being shopped around to television networks in Miami.
The incident, which illustrated a serious breach of Noriega's security, led to calls by Noriega's lawyers that their client be transferred to a military base.
U.S. Atty. Dexter Lehtinen of Miami said he has asked the FBI to investigate.