Noriega portrait used to protect drugs

By KAYE FAIR  |  Dec. 4, 1991
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MIAMI -- Manuel Noriega's portrait was used as security against Panamanian interception aboard a yacht on its way to pick up cocaine bound for the United States, a crew member testified Wednesday.

Manuel Sanchez, 36, said he was the captain of the 51-foot yacht, the Krill. He worked for the Krill's owners, Amet and Ruben Paredes.

In February 1986 Colombian drug dealers Ramon Navarro and William Saldarriaga inspected the boat, docked at Balboa Yacht Club in Panama, and agreed to buy it, Sanchez said.

The Colombians offered Sanchez $1,000 to take the boat through the Panama Canal to Colombia, he testified.

Before the boat left for Panama three secret compartments were built in the crew quarters and under the stairs near the galley.

An autographed portrait of Noriega was placed on the Krill, Sanchez said. The portrait had been given to Navarro by Cesar Rodriguez, a close associate of Noriega, he added.

'It had to be placed there so nobody would bother the yacht -- none of the Panamanian authorities,' Sanchez said.

The Krill was loaded with two large boxes from a Panamanian gun dealer and went safely to Colombia where the boxes were unloaded, he said.

Sanchez said he then took the Krill to the Rosario Islands in Colombia, where hundreds of yellow and blue plastic packages containing cocaine were loaded into the secret compartments by Saldarriaga.

Sanchez and two other crew members took the cocaine shipment to San Andres, another Colombian island, and waited for Saldarriaga and Navarro. Colombian police boarded the vessel there.

'They broke down the door, started beating us up, and arrested us,' Sanchez said.

Defense attorney Frank Rubino asked sarcastically during cross examination: 'When Colombian police saw the picture did they start yelling El Tigre, El Tigre (Noriega's nickname) and start running off the boat?'

Prosecutors objected and U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler agreed.

'Let's avoid asking foolish questions,' Hoeveler admonished Rubino.

Rubino then asked: 'What good did that picture of Noriega do?'

'No good,' said Sanchez, who spent a year in a Colombian jail after the incident.

Narcotics officers in Colombia had been investigating Saldarriaga and Navarro before the Krill arrived, Colombian police Cpt. Carlos Malaver testified.

When the boat arrived it was under 24-hour police surveillance until the drugs were seized at San Andres, Malaver said.

Navarro and Saldarriaga were not arrested because a Colombian narcotics officer had tipped them off police were on their way, Malaver said.

Other witnesses have testified the Krill was loaded in Panama with M- 16 rifles which were traded for more than 700 pounds of Colombian cocaine.

Those drugs were bound for the United States and Noriega was to be paid part of the profits, according to earlier testimony.

Rodriguez and Ruben Paredes were found slain in Colombia in March 1986 shortly after they left Panama to oversee the Krill deal. Saldarriaga was convicted in Miami federal court in February 1991 for his part in the Krill plot and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Navarro was killed in an automobile crash in Miami shortly before he was to testify for the government in the February 1991 trial.

Noriega is being tried on 10 counts of cocaine racketeering, conspiracy and importing and distribution of the drug.

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