A central figure in a $5 billion Iraqi loan scandal went into federal court Monday to begin a weeklong sentencing hearing in which his attorney is expected to try to implicate the U.S. government in the scheme.
Christopher Drogoul, the former Atlanta branch manager of Italy's Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, faces up to 390 years in prison. Drogoul has pleaded guilty to 60 felonies ranging from wire fraud to money laundering.Drogoul's branch made more than $5 billion in unreported loans to Iraq between 1985 and 1989.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used the money to import grain and build his war machine. Federal prosecutors say BNL, which is owned by the Italian government, never knew what Drogoul was doing.
Drogoul was cooperating with prosecutors until two weeks ago when he replaced his public defender with Bobby Lee Cook, one of the South's best known defense attorneys.
"It's a political event," Cook said of the case. "It has been charged with international politics with the Italian government and with this government at the highest levels since it began."
Acting U.S. Attorney Gerrilyn Brill has dismissed Cook's charges and accused him of grandstanding for the media. She also questioned the objectivity of U.S. District Court Judge Marvin Shoob, who called for an independent counsel to investigate irregularities in the case.
The Justice Department denied Shoob's request.