Pubdate: Wed, 17 May 2000
Source: Miami Herald (FL)
Copyright: 2000 The Miami Herald
Contact:  One Herald Plaza, Miami FL 33132-1693
Fax: (305) 376-8950
Author: Andres Oppenheimer


Senior Government Officials Said To Protect Drug Traffickers

A former chief DEA agent at the U.S. Embassy in Argentina has created
a stir in that country -- and in U.S. law enforcement circles -- by
stating that senior officials of former President Carlos S. Menem's
government were ``deeply involved'' in drug trafficking.

Abel Reynoso, 46, who resigned from the DEA on March 1, was quoted
last week by the Argentine news weekly Noticias as saying that Menem
government officials ``were not really interested'' in fighting drug
trafficking. He also said that some of them were ``in the business''
of protecting drug traffickers.

Personal Opinion

Terry Parham, a spokesman for the DEA in Washington, said Reynoso's
comments ``are strictly his personal opinion, and do not reflect the
views of the DEA.'' A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires
said Reynoso is a private citizen, and his views ``don't reflect any
arm of the U.S government.''

Reynoso told The Herald in a telephone interview Tuesday that he will
provide in a forthcoming book names of Argentine officials who were
``negligent'' or ``behaved strangely'' in the fight against drug
traffickers. He has not identified any officials suspected of drug
ties, and said Tuesday that he has no evidence that Menem himself knew
or participated in drug-related crimes.

But Reynoso's statements are in sharp contrast with the Clinton
administration's assessment of anti-drug efforts by the the Menem
government, a close U.S. ally until Menem stepped down in December.

Narcotics Review

The U.S. State Department's 2000 country-by-country narcotics review,
which covers Menem's last year in office, listed Argentina as a nation
that ``is not a major drug producing or major drug transit country,''
and stated that the country's government ``actively opposes'' drug

``Argentina is a country where drug money launderers are welcome,''
said Reynoso, who was born and raised in Argentina and served for 15
years with the DEA, including a 1997-1999 stint as the DEA's attache
at the Buenos Aires embassy.

The country is becoming a major producer of chemical precursors for
cocaine production, a growing drug money laundering haven and a
significant drug transit country, he said.

``There are some people in high places who are untouchable,'' he told
The Herald. ``They get in and out of government . . . and often hold
important jobs, even Cabinet jobs, which they pay to obtain.''

He said he remained skeptical of Argentina's anti-drug policies, even
after the new government of President Fernando de la Rua took office,
because Argentine law does not allow law enforcement agencies to
accept information from outside informants, or to offer reduced
sentences to drug traffickers who turn government informants. ``Until
that law is changed, you won't be able to conduct real investigations
there,'' he said.

U.S. officials in Washington said Reynoso's appointment in Argentina
was originally resisted by the Menem government, because the U.S.
agent was a dual U.S.-Argentine citizen and the Argentine government
felt it would be awkward to have one of its citizens representing a
foreign country.

Argentina has never ranked high on the U.S. list of drug producing or
transit countries. But a U.S. Customs Service investigation raised
eyebrows this year when it revealed that Mexico's Juarez Cartel had
funneled more than $25 million to Argentina in the late '90s.
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MAP posted-by: Allan Wilkinson