Legal problems could bar videotaped Castro testimony in Noriega trial

October 12, 1991|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

MIAMI -- Cuban President Fidel Castro may be barred by legal technicalities from making a videotaped appearance as a witness in the trial of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega.

Potential legal problems associated with Mr. Castro's possible testimony in the trial were raised by U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler during a private conference in the courtroom with prosecutors and defense attorneys. It was conducted out of earshot of the jury and members of the public.

The bench conference occurred in late September, and transcripts of the discussion were released yesterday.

During the discussion, Judge Hoeveler asked chief prosecutor Michael "Pat" Sullivan and defense attorney Frank Rubino to research the legality of taking a video deposition from the Cuban president.

"I am not sure you can take his deposition under Rule 15 or any other rule," Judge Hoeveler said, referring to the court's procedural rules.

At issue is the extent to which Judge Hoeveler would have authority over the deposition to assure that Mr. Castro's answers were truthful.

Depositions of witnesses residing in foreign countries may be used in criminal trials if the witnesses are unable or unwilling to travel to the United States to testify in person. But the circumstances of the questioning by the attorneys must be closely controlled, according to the court's rules.

AIt is unclear whether Mr. Castro would submit to the authority of U.S. law and a U.S. judge.

"What if it could be proved he was lying? What could I do about it?" Judge Hoeveler asked.

Answering his own question, he said, "We cannot do anything about it unless we have extradition treaties."

Mr. Rubino responded, "In all due respect, we can invade their countries and seize them, just like we did General Noriega."

General Noriega was indicted in 1988 on drug-trafficking and racketeering charges. The United States and Panama had a valid extradition treaty at the time, but General Noriega, as Panama's de facto leader, refused to surrender to stand trial in Miami. He was arrested in January 1990 after he was overthrown in the U.S. invasion of Panama.

Mr. Castro's testimony could be important to either side in the case. Prosecutors maintain that General Noriega met with Mr. Castro in 1984 to have him mediate a dispute with the top members of the Medellin cocaine cartel.

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