Jorge A. Zemeri-Safie, depending on who is telling the story, is either a dangerous international terrorist wanted for the 1976 murder of a Guatemalan Navy lieutenant or is just an American-educated mechainical engineer and Guatemalan businessman in danger of being deported by uncomprehending U.S. officials to meet certain death at the hands of Guatemalan government agents.
or the 34-year-old Guatemalan could be a key U.S. government ingormant who can implicate past and present Guatemalan officials in the 1968 assassination of John Gordon Mein. then the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala.
Or perhaps he had information about organized crime in the United States.
About all that seems certain about the bizarre life of Zimeri is that federal marshals spirited him amid tigh security yesterday from Washington to Miami where he was subpoenaed to testify this morning before a federal grand jury investigating organized crime and racketeering.
What happens to Zimeri after his appearance before the grand jury was anybody's guess yesterday. His Washington lawyers said they feared that he might immediately be placed on a jet to Guatemala, a flight that attorney Gerard Treanor said would be "like signing a death warrant for him."
Federal officials connected with the organized crime investigation in Miami said that no such thing would happen. But they declined to speculate what might be done with Zimeri after his grand jury testimony.
In any event, for whatever conflicting reasons, an interagency fight is being waged within the federal government over Zimeri. And various officials who make it their business to know about spies, terrorists and other unsavory types seem to be telling vastly different tales about Zimeri.
"For reasons that are unclear to me,' attorney Treanor said, "He's consigered to be an unsavory character by U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms" agents.
Zimeri: has been held in a Florida jail and more recently in the D.C. jail for the last nine months after being convicted of the unlawful possession of a handgun.
Meanwhile. Treanor and another D.C. lawyer, Jack Wasserman, aided by sympathetic government investigators have fought to keep Zimeri in the United States while Guatemalan officials have sought in a fashion to have him extradited to stand trial for the murder of the navy lieutenant.
Zimeri who was shot by unknown assailants in 1975 before eventually making his way to this country is scheduled to be paroled tomorrow. The State Department has taken what one source familiar with the case calls a "neutral position" on his possible extradition because the Guatemalan government has reportedly never fully completed its extradition papers for State.
Treanor and Wasseman said that the Immigration and Naturalization Service has withdrawn its "detainer" on Zimeri but the two lawyers said they still feared for Zimeri's life because he has been moved closer to Guatemala with his removal from the D.C jail to Miami.
One source familiar with the case said Zimeri has implicated one high official in the current military government of Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia and two officials in a previous Guatemalan government in connection with the assassination of AMbassador Mein as well as more recent killings in the Central American nation.
For years, left and right-wing terrorists have been gunning each other down in Guatemala and the slayings have often gone uninvestigated and unexplained. In Guatemala's complicated political intrigues some killings have been blamed on right-wing agents seeking to discredit the left and vice versa.
Charles Hudson an Alcohol. Tobacco and Firearms agent who is investigating Zimeri has been accused by various people sympathetic to Zimeri of attempting to ensure that Zimeri is sent back to Guatemala.
In a brief telephone interview yesterday Hudson said in Miami. "I have no vendetta at all" against Zimeri. He said there were "absolutely no" plans to put Zimeri on a flight to Guatemla.
Hudson said there are allegations that Zimeri is a terrorist but that they are "uproved at this time."
"I can't imagine anyone spiriting him out of this country." said Atlee Wampler the justice Department attorney who is heading the federal grand yury's organized crime investigation in Miami. But Wampler said he did not have "the slightest idea" what will happen to Zimeri when he finishes his testimony there.
One other source familiar with the case said Zimeri's grand jury testimony will be worthless. "He'll deny knowing anything." the source said.
Zimeri is the son of Elias Zimeri Nassar a business partner of former Guatemalan president Carlos Arana Osorio.
The names of both father and son have been linked repeatedly by international human rights watchdog groups to the activities of the infamous Mano Blanca (white hand) right-wing terrorist organization in Guatemala Zimeri has also been accused from time to time by his friends enemies and counterintelligence sources of left-wing terrorist activities. Mafia affilations arms trafficking and perhaps because of his family's Middle Eastern origins connections with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"He's been accused of just about everything" said one U.S. law enforcement source familiar with Zimeri's case.
In 1975 Amnesty International the Nobel prize winning human rights organization launched an investigation into the disappearance of Guatemalan ex-naval officer Waldemar Orozco. The government of Guatemala's then president Kuell Laugerud Garcia also looked into the case althought according to Amnestly international investigations of such occurrences were rare in Guatemala at the time.
In May 1976, Orozco's body was found buried in the courtyard of the Santoni textile factory owned by Zimeri's father. Four alleged bodyguards of the Zimeri family were detained after the body was found.
Guatemalan police sources initially claimed that the Zimeris and two active-duty Guatemalan Army officer's were responible for the Orozco abduction and execution. Shortly afterward, however, according to Amnesty International the Guatemalan minister of the interior "stated categorically that the Zimeri family was not involved in the political killings."
Although Zimeri had reputedly been a friend of President Laugerud's son warrants for his and his father's arrest were issued on the basis of testimony supplied by one of the army officer allegedly involved in the Orozco killing. That testimony suggested that the Zimeris had been involved in the muders of "an engineer employed in the Camino Real Hotel, a detective of the national police named Napoleon, a North American Negro, an officer of the Marine Waldemar Orozco, and of a lawyer among others."
Sources close to Zimeri maintain that those charges are a fabrication. Two Guatemalan government witnesses who claimed that Zimeri had committed the murder of the navy lieutenant have recanted their testimony in affidavits, saying that Guatemalan police wanted them to "entrap" Zimeri in the killing. Moreover, sources say that Orozco may have been an ally of Zimeri's and that, in any case, Zimeri was himself half dead at the time Orozco is supposed to have been killed.
In August 1975, while riding in a white Toyota with two friends, Zimeri was the victim of an assassination attempt that left him with between seven and 10 bullet wounds. Immediately afterwards, he was according to friends, smuggled into El Salvador and then into Mexico. He eventually made his way to Miami where he was convalescing at the time of his arrest for illegal possession of firearms.
Although Zimeri's problems with the Guatemalan government appear to have been principally with the Langerud administration rather than the newly imstalled military government of Romeo Lucas Garcia it is believed by a wide range of sources that he would still be in mortal danger if returned to Guatemala.
"If he's sent back to Guatemala, he's a dead man." said one latin American scholar familiar with Zimeri's case. "There must be 100 people there who would kill him on sight for the things he's done."
A spokesman for Amnesty Interational said yesterday that despite tha organization's reports on Zimeri, it would have to oppose moves to return him to Guatemala. "He might be assassinated or he might be tried and killed by a firing squad but in either case we would be obliged to say don't extradite him because he would die as a result."
Zimeri originally came to the attention of Washington-based investigators as a result of inquiries into the bombing death of former Chilean ambassador Orlando Leterlier in September 1976.
Amony his other reputed skills and connections. Zimeri is thought to be familiar with arms design and manufacture and to be in contact with prominent members of violent right-wing Cuban exile groups.
Although he apparently has been cleared of any direct involvement with letelier's death, Zimeri convinced some American investigators that he is knowledgeable about Latin American, including Cuban, terrorist organizations.
Whatever the facts surrounding Zimeri's case, even one of his supporters concedes. "I wouldn't say he's a totally innocent angel."