Noriega did not know details about drug flights, government witness says Defense attorney cross-examines pilot

October 02, 1991|By New York Times News Service

MIAMI -- The lawyer defending Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega hammered away at the prosecution's star witness for the second consecutive day yesterday, accusing him of "shaking down" the cocaine-trafficking ring based in Medellin, Colombia, for $500,000 in bribes by "trading on the general's name."

Chief defense counsel Frank Rubino also coaxed from Floyd Carlton Caceres, General Noriega's former personal pilot, an admission that the general "did not know the details" of four drug flights from Colombia to Panama that Mr. Carlton had previously testified to having flown.

In fact, Mr. Carlton said, General Noriega took no action to protect the cocaine shipments, limiting his role to giving his permission for them to take place.

"General Noriega was paid $150,000 in advance to do absolutely nothing?" Mr. Rubino asked in a tone of incredulity, referring to one flight.

"That is correct, sir," replied Mr. Carlton, who served four years in prison after being convicted on drug charges. He now lives under an assumed identity as part of the federal government's witness protection program.

Because he is probably the only person who can directly link General Noriega to cocaine shipments and payoffs, Mr. Carlton is regarded as perhaps the most important witness in the trial.

Mr. Carlton maintained yesterday that he acted as a courier, transporting bribes from the Medellin drug ring to General Noriega and asserting that all the money that the general was supposed to receive was actually delivered to him.

In Mr. Rubino's effort to discredit Mr. Carlton's account of private conversations with General Noriega and leaders of the Medellin ring, Mr. Rubino had asked several times earlier whether other witnesses could corroborate Mr. Carlton's account, only to be told that those witnesses were now dead or that no one else had been present.

Finally, Mr. Carlton lost his patience with the lawyer's insistence on that point.

"Mr. Rubino, this was a cocaine deal," Mr. Carlton said, describing a bedroom meeting with General Noriega during a party at the Panamanian dictator's beach house. "We weren't talking about cookies here. I couldn't tell him about these things with all those people there."

Mr. Carlton also testified that although he had flown cocaine from Colombia to Panama, he had no direct knowledge that the drugs were then flown on to the United States, a point the prosecution must establish if it hopes to convict General Noriega.

Mr. Carlton also acknowledged that General Noriega was unaware of a money-laundering flight he made and became angry when he learned of it later.

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