WASHINGTON -- A journalist who was found murdered in his apartment in Guatemala City late last month may have been killed because he was investigating the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International, a U.S. senator said Thursday.
Anson Ng, a stringer for the Financial Times in London, was working on a 'big story' concerning BCCI's activities in Guatemala, according to people he had talked to shortly before his death, Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., said in a statement released at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing.
'Although officials in Guatemala have sought to characterize Ng's assassination as the work of common criminals, the murder seems to be the work of professional hitmen,' Cranston said.
Cranston said 'suspicion in journalism circles in Guatemala' is that Ng's murder was related to his probe into arms trafficking allegedly carried out by BCCI in collusion with top leaders of the Guatemalan military.
The senator said Ng's close friends have told him that a silencer was used in the killing and that he was shot once in the head.
Guatemalan autorities, however, say no bullet was found either in the body or in Ng's apartment.
Cranston said Ng's friends also have told him that his head had been wrapped in a towel and his body left in the bathroom, apparently in an effort to keep his murder secret for a few days.
A set of documents were stolen from Ng's desk and Guatemalan authorities have impounded a set of computer disks that the journalist used for his work, Cranston said.
Cranston said he has urged Guatemalan authorities to 'take all necessary steps to ensure that Ng's killers are brought to justice, no matter what their rank or station in life.'
Last July Guatemalan officials sent two investigators to Miami to look into Florida bank accounts held by former President Vinicio Cerezo and to investigate the 1988 purchase of three Sikorski military helicopters, bought from Jordan during Cerezo's administration.
The two were also to investigate a $30 million BCCI credit given to Guatemala's central bank in 1988. In a press release Thursday, the Banco de Guatemala said the loan was received 'within the law.'
The BCCI loan was repaid in October 1988 with a contingency loan from the International Monetary Fund, the bank said. The bank also received two smaller loans from BCCI, one for $5 million in 1986 and another for $2.5 in 1988.
Bank manager Fabian Pira would not comment on whether or not the funds from BCCI were used to buy the Sikorski helicopters, saying the matter was 'a state secret.'
The central bank's involvement was 'indirect.' Pira told a local newspaper. 'Because of the nature of the transaction I cannot give more details,' he said.
A report in TIME Magazine said the declared price of $5 million paid for the helicopters was much higher than the market price, and that some Guatemalan officials involved in the transaction, including then- President Cerezo's brother, pocketed the difference.
Guatemalan Congressman Jorge Skinner-Klee called bank officials 'a gang of cheaters,' and charged that the Banco de Guatemala 'has absolutely no documentation on the destination of the (BCCI) money.'
Guatemalan Attorney General Asisclo Valladares said authorities were also investigating a $200,000 BCCI tax fraud, and another case of $4 million lost to treasury officials through illegal coffee exports.