Dow Jones Business News -- July 25, 1996

U.S. Probing Claim Of Cuba's Knowledge Of Drug Smuggling

AP-Dow Jones News Service

MIAMI -- Fidel Castro let smugglers use Cuba as a way station for one of the largest cocaine shipments ever into South Florida, the accused smugglers told U.S. drug agents.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) informed congressional staffers Wednesday that the smugglers' claims are being investigated, sources told The Associated Press.

The staffers were made aware of the DEA probe in anticipation of a story in Thursday's Miami Herald detailing the claims.

The DEA told congressional staff that the men, who face federal drug charges, are cooperating with a grand jury.

The reports were immediately denounced by Jose Ponce, first secretary of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington.

'It's an outrageous lie,' he told the newspaper. 'The Cuban government is not involved in any drug trafficking. Many people in the United States would like to build a campaign against the Cuban government in order to use it as a pretext for intervention in Cuba that could even be a military intervention.'

Federal drug agents have long investigated whether Cuban leader Fidel Castro has cooperated with Colombian drug smugglers, a claim raised by witnesses in the trial of ousted Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega.

The five men making the claim were arrested in January with a large shipment of cocaine and Cuban cigars, but it is believed only a portion of the cocaine shipment was seized, agents said.

During questioning, the suspects claimed they brought the drugs through Havana with the personal approval of Castro, the Herald reported, quoting unidentified sources.

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