The Miami Herald

Language snag stalls funds probe

"It is my desire, " President Reagan said last week, "to have the full story about Iran come out now -- the alleged transfer of funds, the Swiss bank accounts, who was involved -- everything."

But the full story won't come out until the U.S. government tells the Swiss government exactly what it wants -- in French.

For lack of a translation, Switzerland has not acted on a 10-day-old U.S. request -- written only in English -- that secrecy be lifted on two bank accounts at the Credit Suisse in Geneva.

Those accounts may hold the key to learning what happened to millions of dollars in proceeds from the sales of U.S. weapons to Iran.

One account was controlled by Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, the former National Security Agency deputy who was fired Nov. 25.

Swiss officials said that the other account was held in the names of North, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord and Secord's business partner, Iranian-born U.S. businessman Alfred Hakim. They are suspected of having used the accounts to transfer money to support the Nicaraguan rebels, or contras.

The accounts are frozen, but officials at Switzerland's justice department said that, under a 1973 U.S.-Switzerland agreement, they cannot begin the legal process for unsealing the secret bank records for U.S. criminal investigators until the U.S. request is translated into French.

However, one spokesman for the Swiss government in Geneva said a version of the U.S. request in German or Italian or any other official language of Switzerland would suffice.

The U.S. government apparently recognizes that it is responsible for furnishing a translation. In fact, its Dec. 12 letter to the Swiss government said: "A French translation of the request will be provided as soon as it is prepared."

But who is furnishing the translation and why is it taking so long?

"We're not touching any matters relating to this, " said State Department press officer Peter Martinez. "We're saying 'no comment' about everything."

At the Justice Department, spokesman John Russell said: "It is being translated, even as we speak, by the FBI."

Russell acknowledged that a French translation could have been done in a few hours. But, he said, "we have 30 days to get it done."

FBI spokeswoman Susan Schnitzer said she would check. A half-hour later, she said: "We can't get into discussions of exactly what it is we're doing."

Asked whether the FBI was working on a French translation itself or had turned the job over to an independent contractor, she replied: "We do have people here with language capabilities."




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