Moises Torrijos, Panama's ambassador to Madrid and brother of Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos, emphatically declared his innocence yesterday of U.S. charges that he was involved in the illegal narcotics trade.
"I swear to you, I had nothing to do with drugs ever in my life," Torrijos declared in an interview in his spacious 14th-floor penthouse apartment.
Torrijos contended that the "revival of the six-year-old false charges" was part of a last-ditch campaign by the "most reactionary group in the U.S. Senate" to block ratification of the Panama Canal treaties.
The Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday confirmed previously published reports that Moises was secretly indicted by a U.S. grand jury in 1971 for allegedly participating in a drug-smuggling operation.
The Justice Department subsequently opened that indictment, which accused Moises Torrijos of facilitating transshipment through Panama of narcotics which one of his as-States.
The 62-year-old Ambassador said that if there was any proof against him, he would go to the United States to answer charges and stand trial.
"This is what my brother, the general, has proposed, and I am perfectly willing to do it," Torrijos said.
But the charges, he contended, were "all political" - an effort to "discredit my brother."
"I don't go to the U.S. because I don't want to be framed," Torrijos said. "I avoid going to the U.S. not for fear of being arrested, but for fear that something incriminating will be planted in my luggage."
Moises Torrijos, who until this point had declined to be interviewed by Americna correspondents, said he "did not want to defend myself against the allegations in the U.S. Senate and U.S. press, but I must speak because they are not against me but against my country and my brother, the general."
Seated at his beakfast table, he answered all questions - even though he said he had been ordered by the Panamanian Foreign Office to refrain from discussing the drug charges until the canal treaties are ratified.
Torrijos said the first word he had of the allegations against him were U.S. news stories published in 1972.
"It was all political. It was the time when treaty negotiations were just beginning and it was all designed to discredit my brother."
While his wife, Flor de Maria, sighed, "It's all like a novel," Torrijos flatly denied the allegations against him, which stem from the 1971 arrest of three Panamanians in John F. Kennedy Airport in New York for trying to smuggle 154 pounds of heroin into the United States.
"I knew one of them, Guillermo Gonzalez, who helped me in the 1968 legislative electoral campaign," said Torrijos. "But the fact that I knew him doesn't mean I was involved. I don't know how I was dragged into the mess."
He claimed that U.S. narcotics agents questioned Gonzalez sharply in an "attempt to get him to name me," but said that Gozalez, who is now out of prison and back in Panama, insisted "I was in no way involved."
The other two arrested were Rafael Richards, son of the then Panamanian ambassador to Taiwan and Nicolas Polanco, about whom Torrijos claimed to know little.
Torrijos said that he was a perfect target of U.S. treaty foes becuase he had opposed "American colonalism in the Canal Zone all my life.
"I'm a nationalist, not a drug smuggler," Torrijos said.
Moises Torrijos said he was denied a visa to the United States in 1955 because he had traveled to the Soviet Union and had many leftist connections in Panama and elsewhere.
Becuase he had traveled to the Soviet Union and had many leftist connections in Panama and elsewhere, never been in the U.S. except in 1965.
"For that reason," he said. "I have never been in the U.S. except in 1965 when I stopped in Miami and New York in transit to Europe. I have not set foot in the U.S. since."
The ambassador said his brother had never told him that in 1972, John Ingersoll, then head of the U.S. drug bureau, visited Gen. Torrijos in Panama and warned him that a secret indictment had been handed down against Moises.
He also disclaimed any knowledge of any secret agreement between Ingersoll and the Panamanian leader that Moises would stay out of the drug business and never set foot in the United States or the Canal Zone.
"The story is a fabrication," said Torrijos. "I go to the Canal Zone whenever I'm in Panama. I act as a guide for Spanish visitors who want to see the canal all the time. I was in the Canal Zone many times between last November and last January when I was home, and before that I crossed the zone hundreds of times to go to my country home."
Torrijos vehemently denied published stories suggesting that he disembarked in Venezuela while sailing from Spain on a ship scheduled to dock in the Canal Zone because he was tipped by his brother that U.S. narcotics agent were waiting there to arrest him.
"That's a preposterous story," he said. "I've never gone home by ship from Spain. I can prove it. I always fly - via Santo Domingo. I went via Puerto Rico when my mother died, and I wasn't arrested."
The bespectacled ambassador, who looks like a smaller, heavier, version of Gen. Torrijos, spoke softly and deliberately throughout the wide-ranging interview.
"You must understand that this is a delicate moment," he said. "There are strong forces trying to perpetuate American colonialism in the heart of Panama."
He charged that the "calumnies against me and my family are an attempt to sabotage the treaty, which was negotiated between the two countries as equals."
"I guess that drugs were dragged up because accusations of communism no longer work," he added with a smile.
Torrijos has been ambassador to Spain since 1971. Between 1968 and 1969, he served as ambassador to Argentina.