Money courier tells of services for CIA

A jailed Cuban accountant claims to have laundered almost $2 billion for the Colombian drug cartel while also distributing drug money to the Nicaraguan contras and acting as a courier for the CIA in Latin America. Ram'on Milian Rodr'iguez made these disclosures of an astonishingly complex career earlier this month in closed hearings in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Drugs and Terrorism, according to Senate sources present. He then repeated them in an interview with the Monitor.

Leaning over a small table in a crowded visitors room in North Carolina's Buttner Prison, Mr. Milian - convicted last year of drug-money laundering and possession of cocaine - said in the Monitor interview that he delivered to Panamian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega money from both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Colombian drug cartel.

A CIA spokeswoman said the agency would neither confirm nor deny Milian's statement.

Milian says that the financial-courier activities he undertook for both the CIA and the cartel were largely political and distinct from the large drug-money laundering operation he directed for the Colombian drug lords.

He asserts that between 1980 and 1983 he gave or had sent to General Noriega a total of $20 million to $30 million in CIA funds. During the same period, he says, he sent Noriega roughly $10 million a month in drug-cartel funds. This is only a part, Milian adds, of the money Noriega received from drugs. The Cuban says that Noriega also received the profits from what Milian claims is a very lucrative cocaine-processing laboratory in the Panamian city of Darien.

Noriega also received help with his drug business from Cuba and its intelligence services, according to CIA and other analysts who have had strong connections with Cuban intelligence. These same sources say that both Noriega and the Cubans were involved in drug trafficking out of Nicaragua.

Milian stressed to the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee the wide scope of the drug cartel's financial activities and its rapidly expanding role as a political broker in Latin America, according to both the accountant and Senate sources.

The political role of the cartel is based on the vast amounts of money it has at its disposal, Milian says. Between 1980 and 1983, he asserts, he distributed hundreds of millions of dollars of cartel money to Latin leaders whom the Colombian drug families smiled upon. He claims to have distributed during the same period roughly $50 million of CIA money to various political figures the agency wanted to support in Central and South America.

Milian stressed to both the committee and the Monitor that his CIA and cartel courier roles were separate ones. He stresses that although the agency was aware of his drug-laundering activities, it never encouraged or profited from them.

His role as a CIA courier started toward the end of 1979, and, Milian says, it both predated and transcended in importance his claimed activities in distributing drug-profit money to the contras. These activities have already been partly described in published press reports based on Senate committee leaks.

Milian told both the Monitor and the committee, according to Senate sources, that in December 1984 he was contacted by Felix Rodr'iguez and asked by him if Milian and his drug-trade sponsors would make contributions to the contras. Mr. Rodr'iguez also is known as Max Gomez. Milian and others testifying in the congressional hearings on the Iran-contra affair allege that Rodr'iguez, or Gomez, is a CIA asset or contract employee.

The Cuban accountant says that from the time he was contacted by Rodr'iguez until his sentencing on drug laundering and possession charges in January 1986, he gave the contras between $9 million and $10 million.

Rodr'iguez, according to Senate and other sources, admits that he met with Milian, but he says that it was at Milian's initiative, after Milian's drug indictment.

Senate sources say Milian testified that he told Rodr'iguez that the cartel was involved in drug trade in Nicaragua. Milian then proposed to go down to Nicaragua and involve the Sandinistas more deeply in drug trafficking while at the same time informing the CIA. Milian testified that the CIA refused this offer.

Milian also told both the Monitor and the committee that he had laundered ``dozens of millions of dollars of drug money'' for Luis Rodr'iguez, partner of right-wing Cuban exile Francisco Chanes. Mr. Chanes headed a shrimp export firm based in Miami and Costa Rica which Milian and others have alleged was part of the contras' southern-front operations, and he was reputedly involved in drug trafficking.

One news media report, which accused Chanes and his firm of drug involvement, showed photos of checks for $200,000 which the company had received from the State Department's humanitarian assistance office set up to aid the contras.

Milian says he began his work as a money courier to conservative causes in Latin America while working for Manuel Artime. Milian alleges that Mr. Artime, along with many in the Cuban exile community, have worked closely with the CIA. After Artime's death, Milian used his contacts to continue carrying money between the United States and Latin America.

After beginning to suspect that much of this money came from drug profits, Milian says, he informed the CIA of his activities in Miami in 1979. In spite of this confession, alleges Milian, the CIA began using him to send money down to Latin America to people it supported.

A CIA spokeswoman said that, under agency policy, it could neither confirm nor deny any connection with Milian or Artime or statements about Noriega.

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