Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Vesco Goes from King to Pawn in Cuba Game Fugitive's Arrest May Be Tied to U.S. Policy

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Vesco Goes from King to Pawn in Cuba Game Fugitive's Arrest May Be Tied to U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

Fugitive financier Robert Vesco was the Howard Hughes of communist Cuba until his gilded cage became his jail cell.

Now, he is a pawn in an international chess game, a bit player in which he has been cast as the fall guy, ensnared in the same Machiavellian web that once gave him refuge.

And Vesco, the zealous guardian of a stolen multimillion-dollar fortune, a connoisseur of yachts and fine dining, has suddenly landed at Villa Marista, a prison in south central Havana that is the headquarters for the East German-trained State Security police.

Cuba said Saturday that it had arrested Vesco on suspicion of being a "provocateur and agent for foreign special services."

The Foreign Ministry made the announcement in a brief statement. It gave no details of what he was suspected of having done, or of which country he was thought to have been an agent.

The statement also did not mention that the United States had asked Cuban authorities to return Vesco to the United States to face charges before a U.S. court.

"In my view, this was a political ploy kicked off by the reversal in U.S. policy regarding the Cuban refugees," said Tom Cash, the Drug Enforcement Administration's special agent in charge of Florida and the Caribbean from 1988 until January this year.

After President Bill Clinton's administration moved to repatriate Cuban refugees found on the high seas, U.S. policy-makers became the target of criticism from Cuban Americans and needed a Cuban concession, however symbolic, Cash said.

The arrest also signals the end of Vesco's long, strange trip that began with an illegal donation to then-Presi- dent Richard M. Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign and the disappearance of $224 million from a Geneva-based mutual fund, and ended with an odyssey through the Bahamas, Antigua, Costa Rica and finally Cuba.

Until last week, Vesco lived in a sprawling 1950s-style mansion in the posh Siboney area of the Cubanacan district, less than a mile from the home of Cuban leader Fidel Castro himself.

"He was the Howard Hughes of Cuba," Cash said. "He was a mystery man."

Mysterious, but also hated, at least after 1989, by members of the communist power structure. …

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