Ex-banker traces health woes to case involving CIA

July 07, 1991|By Michael K. Burns KvB

When Robert J. Maxwell found himself involved in suspected CIA money laundering and arms dealing while working at First National Bank of Maryland, he suffered a nervous breakdown and high blood pressure from the anxieties of trying to correct the record.

He gave up his banking career in 1985 and now works as a bartender; he fears for his safety and the safety of his family.

He is suing the bank and the CIA, which have asked the federal court to block the case on grounds of national security.

"I've paid the price for standing up for what was right," the 44-year-old Shrewsbury, Pa., man said. "Now I want my day in court."

From 1983 to 1985, Mr. Maxwell was in charge of the

international letters of credit department for First National and claims to have transferred millions of dollars for a CIA front firm through anonymous bank accounts in Panama, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland.

Sometimes, he was told to omit the name of the firm, Associated Traders Corp. In one deal, the dummy corporation bought 60,000 Indian rifles that probably ended up in the hands of Afghan rebels, he said.

Worried that he would be blamed for the illegal dealings, Mr. Maxwell said he asked his supervisors for a memo authorizing his actions. The officials refused, and he received veiled threats, he said.

Mounting pressures forced him to quit and, after a brief stint at another bank, he suffered a breakdown and left the banking business altogether.

Three years ago he sued the bank (and, subsequently, ATC and various government agents) for emotional distress. So far, he has been unable to get the defendants to produce requested documents.

The bank has not disputed his allegations, but has raised legal arguments to block the release of any information.

The CIA has asked the court to bar Mr. Maxwell from presenting any evidence that would allege a link between the spy agency and ATC or First National.

His first lawyer left the case two years ago, threatened with disbarment proceedings by an opposing attorney, Mr. Maxwell claims. The bank's lawyer has denied the accusation.

Mr. Maxwell's case in Baltimore federal District Court was shifted from one federal judge to another, and the key legal question of whether to allow any evidence against the CIA has been assigned to a magistrate.

Mr. Maxwell's allegations have found support from others. The private MacArthur Foundation has helped to finance his lawsuit as an open government issue. And an official of the Association of National Security Alumni, formed to oppose covert government operations, says his case rings true. Columnist Jack Anderson exposed links between ATC and the CIA in the wake of the Iran-contra arms deals.

In his suit, Mr. Maxwell claims that ATC moved at least $23 million in arms and equipment purchases through the Baltimore bank from 1981 to 1985. The company's name was removed from some transfers, invoices changed to hide the nature of the purchases and government arms-export approvals omitted, he charges.

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