N.Y. judge rejects Clifford's bid to have charges dropped

January 12, 1993|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- A New York judge yesterday rejected Clark M. Clifford's bid to have state charges against him in the Bank of Credit & Commerce International scandal dismissed on the basis of his poor health.

Mr. Clifford, a former secretary of defense and adviser to several presidents, and his law partner and protege, Robert A. Altman, are scheduled to go on trial Feb. 15 in New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan on charges of accepting a bribe and helping to conceal BCCI's ownership of U.S. banks from regulators. But few people expect Mr. Clifford, who is 86, to stand trial any time soon because of heart disease and other ailments.

"For the moment, I'm disappointed that this continues to hang over his head," his lawyer, Charles A. Stillman, said after the ruling.

While he turned down the dismissal motion, state Supreme Court Justice John A. K. Bradley said he would look favorably on a motion to separate the cases against the defendants, a move that would allow the charges against Mr. Clifford to be delayed while Mr. Altman goes on trial.

In addition to the state charges, Mr. Clifford faces a federal indictment in Washington stemming from his ties to BCCI's Arab owners.

In turning down the dismissal motion, Justice Bradley cited the possibility that contrary to Mr. Stillman's assurances, Mr. Clifford might want to stand trial in the federal case, which is narrower and generally conceded to be weaker than the state case.

Mr. Clifford could be tried first in New York and then in Washington, but if he is tried on the federal charges first, New York law requires that the state case be dropped.

"For a defendant to attempt to manipulate the criminal justice system so that he obtains a trial at a time and place of his choosing is something that the courts cannot and will not countenance," the judge wrote.

"This court has read the 9,500 pages of grand jury minutes underlying this indictment," he wrote of the state case, which was brought by Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau. "The impression on the reader is that the evidence of guilt is overwhelming."

Mr. Stillman had insisted that his client would seek to have the federal case dropped, too, for health reasons. But Judge Bradley noted that while Mr. Clifford asked for dismissal in New York on Oct. 26, he has yet to request it in Washington.

At a hearing held last month, doctors testified that Mr. Clifford suffers from heart disease, intestinal bleeding, arthritis and a host of other health problems.

All the doctors agreed that he should undergo bypass surgery, though the procedure itself could prove fatal. Mr. Clifford has so far resisted having the operation.

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