August 14, 2006 9:55 AM
Federal prosecutors in Miami were prepared to indict Raul Castro as the head of a major cocaine smuggling conspiracy in 1993, but the Clinton Administration Justice Department overruled them, current and former Justice Department officials tell ABC News.
The officials say Castro, as Cuban Defense Minister, permitted Colombian drug lords to pay for the use of Cuban waters and airstrips as staging grounds for smuggling runs into the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s.
"It was a major investigation involving numerous witnesses that was killed at the highest levels in Washington," said a former Justice Department official with direct knowledge of the case.
"There were numerous national security and intelligence issues that would have made the case difficult," said Tom Cash, the former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration office in Miami.
Convicted Colombian drug boss Carlos Lehder of the Medellin cartel testified in a 1991 federal trial that he met twice in Havana with Raul Castro to arrange safe passage for cocaine flights over Cuban airspace.
The draft indictment, as described by a former Justice Department official who saw it, listed Raul Castro as the leader of a conspiracy involved in smuggling seven and a half tons of cocaine into the United States over a 10-year period. At least a dozen other Cubans were also to be indicted.
In 1989, a top Cuban General, Arnoldo Ochoa, was convicted by a Cuban court and ordered executed with three other military officers for their roles in drug smuggling.
Cuban waters continue to be used by drug smugglers, according to federal law enforcement officials.
"The smugglers know that the U.S. Coast Guard can't go after them in Cuban waters," one official said.
There was no immediate comment from the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, D.C. In the past, Fidel Castro has denied that his country or his brother had any role in protecting drug smugglers.
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