U.S. Embassy in Colombia Faces New Drug Probe! 

U.S. Embassy in Colombia Faces New Drug Probe! 
Posted by FoM on August 15, 1999 at 17:43:00 PT
Workers may have sent contraband through the mail
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
U.S. officials are investigating six to eight American Embassy employees and dependents in Colombia who may have been using the mission's postal system to smuggle illegal drugs or other contraband to the United States, according to sources in Washington and Bogota. 
The investigations began after the Army Criminal Investigation Division charged the wife of the Army officer in command of the U.S. military's antidrug efforts in Colombia with illegally shipping cocaine to the United States via the seldom-inspected government mail system. The new inquiries came during a follow-up review of embassy mailing records and have not yet led to criminal charges. But U.S. officials described them as particularly embarrassing, because Colombia produces 80 percent of the world's cocaine and most of the $289 million in annual U.S. aid to the South American country goes to combat drug trafficking. It is unclear whether those being investigated for possible contraband shipments acted on their own or were involved in the previously disclosed case of Laurie Hiett, wife of U.S. Army Col. James Hiett.She was arraigned in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Aug. 5 on a charge of conspiracy to distribute narcotics and released on $150,000 bond. She is accused of sending at least six packages, each containing about 2.7 pounds of cocaine, estimated by U.S. officials to be worth $235,000. While acknowledging mailing the packages, Laurie Hiett denied knowing their contents. Her chauffeur, Jorge Alfonso Ayala, told U.S. investigators that Hiett abused cocaine, an allegation she denied. Hiett's husband has been cleared of any knowledge of the scheme, but he asked to be reassigned and has left Colombia, U.S. military officials said. Hiett was in charge of the estimated 200 U.S. troops in Colombia involved in training Colombian troops for antidrug operations and protection of three large radar bases used primarily to track drug flights, one of the most important commands in Latin America. The Pentagon declined to reveal where he was reassigned to. Sources said that one embassy employee among those currently under investigation was suspected of having a cocaine habit. "They have been taking a hard look at the place," said one source, who said the continuing inquiry was an effort by federal and military investigators to follow up leads that they developed during the Hiett probe. U.S. officials acknowledged that embassy postal systems were easy to abuse because mail delivered through the Army Postal Service (APO) by the U.S. Postal Service is seldom inspected. In Bogota, the APO is located inside the embassy and is available only to embassy employees and their dependents. An embassy spokesman in Bogota declined Friday to comment and added that Ambassador Curtis W. Kamman also would not comment. In recent weeks, senior Clinton administration officials have visited Bogota to express their growing concern over gains made by Colombia's leftist insurgents, who derive much of their financing from protecting drug traffickers and who have handed the military a series of devastating defeats in recent weeks. Barry McCaffrey, the Clinton administration's drug policy director, said recently that Colombia was in an "emergency situation" and has recommended that the United States invest an additional $1 billion in antidrug efforts in the Andean region, with about half going to Colombia. By Douglas Farah and Serge F. KovaleskiWASHINGTON POSTThe Philadelphia Inquirer, August 15, 1999 1998 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. U.S. Widens Drug Probe At Embassy In Bogota - 8/14/99
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