The government has been ordered to determine how much of deposed Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega's frozen assets may have come from illegal means so some funds can be released for his defense against drug charges.
On Monday U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler also set a closed hearing for Wednesday to determine whether the so-called CNN tapes can be aired by the cable network.Hoeveler gave prosecutors until the end of the week to make a determination on what funds the general may have access to for his defense. The judge said he would set a hearing on the issue if the government did not act by then.
Noriega's defense lawyers say they have not been paid and have received very little money for his defense since January because the U.S. government requested that at least $27 million of the general's assets held in foreign bank accounts be frozen on the premise the money is drug tainted.
They had asked that they at least be given court-appointed status so the government would be responsible for their fees. They wanted special consideration so they could get more than the maximum of $75 an hour the government can pay for someone's defense.
Hoeveler ruled Monday that $75 was the most the government could pay, but he ordered the government to look into the alternative remedy of having prosecutors determine if any of the general's own money could be released for his defense.
Several months ago the government agreed to help Noriega find money for his defense, and Hoeveler's order Monday meant prosecutors had not kept their promise, lead defense attorney Frank Rubino said.
"My opinion is that Judge Hoeveler thinks the government can do more than it has done to release the funds . . . so he's going to put the fat to the fire."