WASHINGTON -- The federal judge in a case involving $5 billion in hidden bank loans that helped finance Iraq's military buildup criticized Attorney General William P. Barr yesterday for refusing to seek an independent prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration's prewar policy toward Iraq.
The judge, Marvin H. Shoob, said he does not believe that a former bank manager who is accused of masterminding the loan scheme acted alone and said he fears that the whole story will not be known without a special prosecutor.
"I certainly am concerned as to whether I will get the entire story of what happened down here in Atlanta," Judge Shoob said in a telephone interview. "I don't think there was any way that a branch manager of an Italian bank could make loans over a period of time involving billions of dollars without somebody being aware of it."
Christopher P. Drogul, former manager of the Atlanta branch ofItaly's Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, was charged with 347 counts of conspiracy and fraud for what authorities said was running a scheme to lend Iraq $5 billion without telling his superiors in Rome or U.S. bank regulators. Federal and congressional investigators have determined that some of the loans were used by Iraq to buy military goods.
In May, Mr. Drogul's lawyer told Judge Shoob that his client planned to plead guilty to all the counts and to implicate others in a statement.
But the weekend before the plea was to be entered, Mr. Drogul accepted a government offer to plead guilty to 60 charges and cooperate with prosecutors. Judge Shoob responded by questioning whether the deal was an attempt to silence Mr. Drogul and called for a special prosecutor.
The House Judiciary Committee cited Judge Shoob's comments on July 9 in asking Mr. Barr to seek an independent counsel. But in rejecting the request this week, Mr. Barr said Congress and Judge Shoob had the facts wrong.
Criticism of the case centered not only on the plea but also on delays that kept the charges from being filed until after the Persian Gulf war and on allegations of White House interference.
The Justice Department defended the time required for the indictment by saying that a draft prepared by the Atlanta prosecutor in January 1990 did not include four Iraqi government officials and an Iraqi-owned bank ultimately charged on Feb. 28, 1991. The others were charged after further investigation and supervision from prosecutors in Washington.