NEW YORK -- A state Supreme Court judge yesterday dismissed half of the eight charges, including an important bribery count, against Robert A. Altman. It was a serious setback for prosecutors trying to prove that he helped the Bank of Credit and Commerce International illegally gain secret control of a Washington bank.
Although the decision by Judge John A. K. Bradley to throw out the bribery charge is a blow to the prosecution, Mr. Altman still faces charges that he participated in a scheme to defraud banking regulators by hiding the identity of the buyer of First American Bancshares Inc. in 1981, which at the time was the largest bank in Washington.
The scheme to defraud is the heart of the case by the Manhattan district attorney, which was concluded after four months of testimony by 45 prosecution witnesses. On Wednesday, the defense spent about 10 minutes presenting its case and then rested.
Judge Bradley's ruling has no bearing on pending criminal charges filed at about the same time by federal prosecutors in Washington against Mr. Altman and Clark M. Clifford, the Washington power broker who was Mr. Altman's law partner and mentor.
The ruling, which came in response to a defense motion made on Tuesday to dismiss all charges against Mr. Altman, also let stand three additional counts of falsifying business records. If convicted on the remaining four counts, Mr. Altman, 46, faces a maximum prison term of 16 years and fines of up to $20,000.
The ruling, which came exactly a week after Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau Jr.'s office rested its case, was also a setback for the well-respected Democratic prosecutor. His office has been investigating BCCI for more than three years and thus far has produced three convictions with hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.
By far the most important charge to be dismissed yesterday was the one accusing Mr. Altman of accepting bribes in the form of sweetheart stock deals from BCCI as payment for the 1986 acquisition of the National Bank of Georgia by First American, which prosecutors say Mr. Altman directed at the behest of BCCI.
Three counts of falsifying business records were also dismissed on jurisdictional grounds.
The case will resume on Monday, when Judge Bradley will hear arguments from both sides about his charge to the jury.
Mr. Altman, who has maintained the charges are groundless, declined to comment on the dismissal of the charges during a lunch break.
But he and his wife, actress Lynda Carter, smiled for photographers in the courthouse lobby.
The trial has looked into the inner dealings of BCCI, the international bank that was closed by regulators in seven countries two years ago amid charges of fraud on a grand scale.
Losses from the bank's collapse are estimated to exceed $10 billion.
Mr. Altman and Mr. Clifford were legal advisers to BCCI and officers and directors of First American, its parent and affiliated companies.
L Mr. Clifford served as chairman of the bank holding company.