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Drug case is a royal mystery

A Saudi prince and his longtime friend plotted to smuggle cocaine into the United States, prosecutors say.

Published March 19, 2005

MIAMI - Doris and the prince met in the late 1970s.

They were students at the University of Miami, he from Saudi Arabia, she from Colombia. In time, they fell in love. But their life together in Miami ended abruptly when the prince suddenly left the country in 1984.

They managed to keep in touch over the years, even getting together occasionally in Europe and the Middle East.

Now their relationship is coming under intense scrutiny in a federal trial in Miami. Prosecutors suspect them in an international conspiracy to smuggle 2 tons of Colombian cocaine on the prince's jet. Their alleged co-conspirators include two one-eyed Colombian drug traffickers and a mysterious Spanish banker.

Defense lawyers dismiss the entire case as preposterous. They say prosecutors and drug agents were duped by Colombian traffickers turned government informants.

Now, as the case unfolds, the courtroom is without either the prince, related by marriage to the heads of the Saudi royal family, or the Spanish banker. Both are well ensconced in their native countries, the U.S. government unable to get to them.

That leaves a Colombian man and Doris Mangeri, who has spent the last 21/2 years in jail.

Her lawyer describes her as a devout Roman Catholic and dedicated real estate broker, "credible, dependable, honest, reliable."

A petite woman with long flowing brown hair down her back, she now sits at the defense table dressed in a neat trouser suit, her ankles in shackles.

She puts on a brave smile for her children, seated a few rows behind.

* * *

It was never clear exactly why the prince left town.

Details were sketchy, but he was named in a drug-related indictment in Mississippi. Documents from the case were destroyed long ago.

Nayef Bin Sultan Bin Fawaz Al-Shaalan officially became a fugitive.

Mangeri married and had four children, but for 25 years she remained Al-Shaalan's "close and dear acquaintance," according to Mangeri's attorney, Douglas L. Williams.

The prince became a surrogate father to her children. He helped out the family financially, and invited them on trips abroad.

In Miami, Mangeri built a successful career as a real estate broker.

Prosecutors say it was Mangeri who in 1998 introduced the prince to a Colombian drug syndicate headed by Juan Gabriel Usuga and Carlos Ramon.

Usuga and Ramon were former brothers-in-law. They shared another bond. Both had lost eyes in accidents.

The two made millions in the drug trade.

They bought a ranch outside Medellin, Colombia, and named it the Cyclops Cattle Ranch after the giant in Greek mythology with only one eye in the middle of his forehead.

By their own account, Ramon and Usuga were among the most inventive and successful traffickers in Colombia. Testifying for the government last week, Usuga described how he pioneered the shipping of multiton cocaine loads in empty chemical tanks.

* * *

Mangeri and Ivan Lopez, the 49-year-old Colombian man seated with her at the defense table, do not deny introducing the prince to Usuga and Ramon.

But they say cocaine was not the motive. Instead, they say, the prince was looking for potential investors in a plastics venture.

Prosecutors see it differently.

At an initial meeting at a rented villa in Marbella, Spain, in September 1998, the prince offered to launder drug money through a small Geneva private bank he co-owned with his twin brother, Usuga told the jury.

Mangeri sat in on the meeting and stood to make a commission on the deal, he added.

The group flew to Geneva the next day and toured the Kanz Bank, which advertised itself as "the only Islamic private bank in Geneva."

Usuga was impressed. The bank's board of directors included a former general manager of the Swiss central bank.

In December, the group met again, this time in Saudi Arabia. The prince took the group on an overnight camping trip in the desert, driving Hummers and an all-terrain Lamborghini.

The jury was shown photos of the group in the desert wearing Arab robes.

It was on the desert trip that Usuga said the prince allegedly offered his private jet, a Boeing 727, to smuggle huge loads of cocaine, 10 to 20 tons.

Usuga urged him to "take it slow," suggesting a smaller load of 2 tons to begin with.

The group met again in Aruba to cement the deal, prosecutors say.

The prince proposed picking up the cocaine in May during an upcoming trip to Venezuela where he had official business, Usuga said.

The prince suggested concealing the drugs in his personal luggage, Usuga added.

Three months later, prosecutors say, the plan was set in motion.

* * *

The cocaine left Colombia in a truckload of potatoes.

It was delivered to a stash house in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. The prince, staying at the Intercontinental Hotel, sent over 100 empty Samsonite suitcases, prosecutors say.

The drugs were allegedly transferred to the suitcases and taken to the prince's jet waiting on the tarmac at Caracas international airport.

The jet flew to Saudi Arabia, then Paris.

The alleged scheme unraveled when French police stumbled on part of a large cocaine haul.

Police had few clues about the drugs until Usuga, Ramon and two other cohorts fell into their laps.

Charged in a separate cocaine indictment, prosecutors say Usuga and Ramon surrendered voluntarily as part of a standard plea bargain.

But defense attorneys say the four surrendered only after paying a $3-million bribe to a U.S. government informant. Usuga then dangled the "story" about the prince to prosecutors, hoping it would win him a lighter sentence, they say.

"In their excitement to get the prince, they (prosecutors) made a deal with the devil," Lopez's attorney, Alan Soven, told the court.

The four Colombians later received what the defense calls "absurdly low" sentences.

Usuga was facing 25 years in jail. He ended up serving only 22 months. The other three also received light sentences.

Usuga's credibility recently took another hit. He was rearrested in October after agents in New York accused him in a money-laundering investigation.

Under cross-examination Thursday, Usuga admitted he had "lived a lie" for a decade, hiding his involvement in drugs from his family and friends.

Prosecutor Jacqueline Arrango conceded that Usuga's testimony might be tainted. But she pointed to other documentary evidence - including hotel bills, airline tickets, passports and the photos in the desert - that corroborated his story.

The photos were discovered hidden in a safe in Mangeri's house after her arrest. Her attorney says she hid them to avoid embarrassment when she started dating another man.

The defense also questions what possible motive Mangeri and the prince could have had in cocaine dealing. Neither wanted for money.

It's a question that bothers prosecutors and witnesses alike. U.S. officials have speculated that funding for terrorism was a possible motive. But drug charges are all that were filed.

In court, Usuga admitted to having doubts about the prince's motives. He described asking the prince why he wanted to become a drug smuggler.

"The world is already doomed," the prince allegedly replied, adding he had been "authorized by God to sell drugs."

Usuga says he insisted on a straight answer.

"Someday you'll know," the prince would say.

Usuga never got his explanation. The Kanz Bank ceased operating a few months after the charges were filed. It blamed its closure on lack of business, unrelated to the Al-Shaalan affair.

In a statement, the bank said the prince "refutes categorically all the allegations against him."

Soon after, the prince dropped from sight.

[Last modified March 19, 2005, 01:00:09]

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