U.S. officials consider options in Bramson case Columbia man wanted in fraud case remains in Liechtenstein prison

THE BALTIMORE SUN

VADUZ, Liechtenstein -- Suspected swindler Martin Bramson remained in international limbo yesterday, locked in a Liechtenstein prison and awaiting the next move by U.S. authorities looking to bring him home to Maryland.

The Liechtenstein government, which has frustrated U.S. justice officials by refusing to extradite Bramson since his arrest in the tiny European nation 21 months ago, wouldn't speak about the case yesterday and seemed to be getting frustrated.

Government officials had tried to send Bramson to Swiss authorities Friday in a secret transfer at a bridge on the Rhine River, but the mission was canceled after Bramson claimed he couldn't walk out of his cell, authorities said.

"It has been going up and down for a long time. We're hoping this case is in its final days," said Helmut Neudorfer, an administrative judge with the Liechtenstein Court of Justice.

At the prison, a three-story plain brick building at the edge of an alpine meadow at the foot of the Alps, a guard stopped a reporter's approach.

"We're saying nothing about a man with that name," he said, when asked about Bramson.

Bramson, 51, of Columbia has been on Interpol's wanted list since he fled the United States in October 1991. A federal indictment in Baltimore charges him with being the brains behind an insurance fraud scheme that bilked thousands of doctors in the United States out of as much as $20 million.

With much of the money unaccounted for and suspected of being placed in hidden off-shore bank accounts, federal prosecutors and the swindled doctors hope Bramson's extradition to Maryland will help provide a tantalizing piece of the Bramson puzzle: What happened to the money?

U.S. authorities claimed in court papers on file in Liechtenstein that Bramson kept 600 bank accounts in countries around the globe, including Luxembourg, Panama, Guam, Israel, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

During his three years on the run as an international fugitive, "Martin Bramson was traveling around the world, emptying bank accounts containing proceeds of the insurance scam," one of the U.S. court documents in the Liechtenstein file says. At the time of his arrest in January 1995 at the Liechtenstein-Austrian border, Bramson was carrying more than $3 million in Swiss francs and $225,000 in gold bullion.

Those familiar with the case say that at the time of his arrest, Bramson probably was taking the valuables for deposit in one of his Liechtenstein bank accounts.

The country, one of the world's richest as measured by per capita gross national product, prides itself on a highly successful banking industry that features fiscal secrecy for customers. American attorneys fighting to recover the stolen money have accused the Liechtenstein government of stalling the Bramson extradition to preserve its reputation for loyalty to banking customers.

Liechtenstein officials have been vague in their reasons for denying the extradition, saying at times that they feared Bramson's human rights would be violated by U.S. plans to impose a long prison sentence if he were convicted. At other times, they say the decision was made by the Liechenstein government and not the courts.

The people of this wealthy nation in the heart of Europe don't seem to have too much concern about their country's entanglement in the Bramson case. The story hasn't been reported in the nation's two newspapers, which publish more banking and corporate news than stories about crime suspects.

But Peter Goestoehl has heard of the case.

"A friend of mine in Germany told me about it. He read it in a German newspaper," said Goestoehl, 21, who sipped a beer and and nibbled a Cheeseburger Royal at McDonald's in Vaduz, Liechtenstein's capital.

"We were wondering who was going to get all that money he [Bramson] was carrying."

The gold and Swiss francs are being held by the Liechtenstein police. A court case has been lingering in Liechtenstein for nearly two years to determine who can take the money.

Pub Date: 10/27/96

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