New Allegations of Bribery in Noriega Trial
Two informants told a Miami federal judge that a key witness in the 1990 case against deposed Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega received a $1.25 million bribe from the Cali cartel in exchange for his testimony (William Booth, "Drug Traffickers Say Cartel Bribed a Noriega Accuser," Washington Post, March 5, 1996, p. A3; Mireya Navarro, "Noriega Motion Raises Question About Witness," New York Times, March 5, 1996, p. A19; for background, see "Colombia Update ... " NewsBriefs, December 1995, p. 17).
The former Cali cartel members, whose identities remain secret, claimed that Ricardo Bilonick was given $250,000 in cash and $1 million in certificates of deposit prior to surrendering to police. Bilonick was a former Panamanian diplomat and member of the Medellin drug cartel. After receiving the money, he testified against Noriega and then pleaded guilty to drug trafficking. He served a three-year sentence. Bilonick, who is now out of prison, called the charges "idiotic" and denied taking bribes.
Noriega's lawyers are asking for a new trial for the former Panamanian leader. They are charging that U.S. prosecutors secretly negotiated with the Cali cartel to get Bilonick to testify. In exchange for Bilonick's testimony, Noriega's lawyers say prosecutors arranged for a reduced sentence for Luis Santacruz Echeverri, the brother of one of the cartel's leaders.
Noriega is serving a 40-year federal prison sentence for allowing Panama to be used as a transshipment point for Medellin cartel cocaine. Prosecutors said that even without Bilonick's testimony, Noriega would have been convicted.