Former Agent Accused of Perjury in Pan Am 103 Bombing Allegations ArrestedBy Robert E. Kessler
Wednesday, November 6 1996; Page A06
© The Washington Post
A former federal informant, who has been accused of perjury for falsely swearing that a federal undercover operation gone awry was responsible for the explosion aboard Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, has been arrested reentering the United States after several years as a fugitive in Europe.
The former informant, Lester Coleman, 53, gave an affidavit in 1992 that he was both an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The affidavit, which was used by insurance company lawyers trying to blame the U.S. government for the bombing, contended that terrorists had taken advantage of a federally approved narcotics operation to plant a bomb on the Pan Am jet. The drug dealers were allowed to smuggle drugs in order to identify the U.S. recipients, Coleman said.
Federal investigators have been probing whether the tale of the federal plot gone awry, which was widely reported and even featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1992, had been deliberately planted by an aviation insurance company in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid liability in the 1988 Pan Am crash, which resulted in 259 deaths.
The federal investigation into the origins of the story already has led to the conviction of multimillionaire John Brennan, the former head of New York City-based United States Aviation Underwriters, on unrelated fraud charges. While investigating the origins of the Pan Am story, FBI agents uncovered Brennan's involvement in trying to shift the blame for a 1987 USAir commuter jet crash in Los Angeles.
Brennan is appealing his conviction, and Harold Clark, the head of Aviation Underwriters, which also handles the insurance on TWA Flight 800, has said that the government does not understand the competitive and complex world of aviation insurance and is criminalizing normal business conduct.
Coleman, who has been charged with perjury and illegally attempting to obtain a passport under an assumed name, was arraigned before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Platt in Uniondale last Friday. He did not have to enter a plea and was held without bail.
Coleman's attorney, federal public defender Abraham Clott, declined to comment, as did Assistant U.S. Attorney Alan Vickery.
In an interview with a newspaper in Scotland last month, Coleman said he was the victim of "vindictive and selective" prosecution and "it is time go home and air this before a jury. . . . They can arrest me but they cannot silence me."
A lawyer for Coleman testified several weeks ago in federal court in Atlanta that his client's return tickets to the United States had been paid for by Alabama Gov. Fob James.
Capt. Roy Smith of the Alabama Department of Public Safety said that James had known Coleman when he worked in Birmingham several decades ago. When Coleman called the governor to say that he had information on criminal activities in Alabama, the governor turned the matter over to the department.
The department paid for Coleman to return to the United States. When he returned, he was arrested by federal authorities and then questioned by Alabama detectives. Smith would not say what the questioning concerned.
© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company