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Possible Bribe Surfaces in Noriega Case

November 04, 1995|The Washington Post

MIAMI — Federal prosecutors have acknowledged that a key witness in the drug-trafficking trial of former Panamanian dictator Manuel A. Noriega may have been bribed into testifying by the Cali drug cartel of Colombia.

The disclosure of an alleged payoff of $1.25 million was made in the government's written response to Noriega's demand for a new trial. Lawyers for the former general, who is serving a 40-year sentence for allowing Panama to be used as a major way station for cocaine shipments to the United States during the 1980s, had charged two months ago that prosecutors entered into "a secret deal" with the cartel to convict Noriega.

In their response filed earlier this week, federal prosecutors disclosed that an unnamed informant told agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration in September that the cartel paid the witness, Ricardo Bilonick, $250,000 in cash the day before he surrendered to U.S. authorities in Panama. In addition, the informer told them that the cartel placed $1 million in certificates of deposit in Bilonick's safety deposit box in Panama.

Another informant, also unidentified, confirmed the outlines of the alleged payoff, according to the prosecutors. Nonetheless, they denied that the allegations were sufficient grounds for a new trial.

Bilonick, in his own written deposition, denied receiving any reward, monetary or otherwise, from the cartel.

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