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The former American diplomat admits that he worked as an agent of Cuba

2024-03-01 22:30:00, Kosova & Bota CNA

The former American diplomat admits that he worked as an agent of Cuba

A former U.S. diplomat told a federal judge Thursday that he will plead guilty to charges that he worked for decades as a secret agent for communist Cuba, an unexpectedly swift resolution to a case that prosecutors had called one of the most treasonous worst in the history of the State Department's Foreign Service.

Prosecutors and the lawyer for 73-year-old former diplomat Manuel Rocha said the plea deal includes an agreed-upon sentence, but they did not reveal other details at a court hearing Thursday. He is due back in court on April 12, when he is scheduled to enter his guilty plea and be sentenced.

"I agree," said Mr. Rocha, handcuffed and shackled, when asked by Judge Beth Bloom if he wanted to enter a plea of ??not guilty. Prosecutors, in exchange, agreed to drop 13 charges, including those of illegal money transfers and making false statements.

The brief hearing did not shed new light on a question that has remained elusive since Mr. Rocha's arrest in December: What exactly did he do to help Cuba while working at the State Department for two decades? He has served as ambassador to Bolivia and has held important posts in embassies in Argentina, Mexico, the White House and the United States Interests Section in Havana.

"Ambassador Rocha," as he preferred to be called, was known among Miami's elite for his aristocratic, almost regal style that matched his high level of education at America's best universities. After leaving the State Department, he worked as a special adviser to the commander of the US Southern Command and most recently as a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump and a hard-liner on Cuba, a figure friends and prosecutors say Mr. Rocha adopted him to hide his true allegiance.

Peter Lapp, who oversaw the FBI's anti-Cuba operations between 1998 and 2005, said a quick resolution to the case benefits not only Mr. Rocha but also the government, which will learn more about Cuba's penetration of United States foreign policy.

Usually in counterintelligence cases, the defendant is charged with espionage. But Mr. Rocha was charged with lesser crimes of acting as a foreign agent, which carry maximum sentences of five to 10 years in prison, making it easier for prosecutors and Mr. Rocha to reach a deal.

"It's a win-win solution," said Mr. Lapp, who led the investigation into Ana Montes, the highest-ranking American official ever convicted of spying for Cuba. "He receives a substantial reward and the opportunity to see his family again, and the United States will be able to conduct a full damage assessment that would not be possible without his cooperation."

But the deal was criticized by the Cuban community and some legal experts who said his sentence could be too light.

"Any sentence that allows him to see the light of day again would not be justice," said Carlos Trujillo, a Miami lawyer who served as the US ambassador to the Organization of American States during President Trump's administration. "He is a spy for a foreign enemy who has endangered American lives."

A spokesman for the Department of Justice declined to comment on the matter./ VOA

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