TAMPA, JULY 29 -- Manuel Antonio Noriega's longtime personal banker was convicted along with five others today in a scheme to launder $32 million in cocaine profits for the Medellin drug cartel.
The verdicts came after seven days of jury deliberations and a six-month-long trial of five international bankers and a Colombian businessman associated with the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.
Convicted of conspiracy and various money-laundering counts were Amjad Awan, Miami-based assistant director of BCCI's Latin American division and onetime banker to the deposed Panamanian leader; four other ex-employees of BCCI; and a Colombian businessman.
The verdicts were read shortly before noon today in a federal courtroom packed with friends and relatives of the accused.
The defendants themselves showed little emotion, but people in the gallery broke into wails, wept and hugged one another and shouted curses in a tumultuous scene following the verdicts.
Prosecutors hailed it as an important victory in the nation's war on drugs.
In a statement issued in Washington, U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh said, "Money laundering is the secret accomplice of death-dealing drug traffickers, and today's guilty verdicts . . . are significant victories in our efforts to dismantle the drug cartels' ability to hide their tainted profits in the worldwide banking system."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Jackowski said here, "This case is important to the United States of America because it shows that those who sit in the ivory tower of society, the bankers in the gray suits, they don't touch the dope but they should know that if they violate the law and they are convicted they're going to jail."
An 11-member panel decided the case after one original juror was removed last week after independently calling a reputed member of the Medellin cocaine cartel while the jury was deliberating.
Jurors, ordered sequestered following the incident, reached their decision late Saturday, but U.S. District Judge William Terrell Hodges delayed announcing it to give out-of-town attorneys time to get to court.
Awan and the other defendants were arrested Oct. 6, 1988, at a bachelor party and wedding staged by the U.S. Customs Service to lure them to Tampa.
They were accused of conspiring with an undercover Customs agent to launder $14 million in proceeds from the sale of cocaine in six U.S. cities. During the entire two-year investigation, the government processed $32 million in partnership with a Medellin cash launderer.
Before the trial began in January, two subsidiaries of the Luxembourg-based bank pleaded guilty to the money-laundering charges and forfeited $15 million to the government, more than triple the previous largest penalty ever assessed against a bank.
BCCI, one of the world's largest private financial institutions with 72 offices, in addition to its hefty fine was put on five years probation under the Federal Reserve System and agreed to open its books to prosecutors investigating Noriega, a BCCI customer.
BCCI, in a statement issued from its London office, said the offenses charged in the case were "contrary to the expressed written policies" of the bank and were not known to senior management or its board of directors.
Also convicted were Ian Howard and Sibte Hassan of BCCI's Paris branch; Akbar A. Bilgrami of the bank's Miami branch; Syed Aftab Hussain, who worked for BCCI in Panama; and Rudolph Armbrecht, the Colombian businessman who was also an aircraft broker.
Hassan was convicted on three of six money-laundering counts; the others were convicted of all the money-laundering counts lodged against them: Awan on 14, Bilgrami on 21, Hussain on 19, Armbrecht on nine and Howard on four.
Prosecutors portrayed the defendants as greedy men eager to help hide hefty sums of cash from drug sales in U.S. cities through intricate global banking transactions.
Defense attorneys, however, maintained the defendants did not know they were breaking any laws and were set up by overzealous government agents who turned what seemed to be a legitimate banking relationship into a money-laundering business.