August 4, 1996 in Nation/World

Castro’s Nephew Testifies Against U.S. Fugitive Says Vesco Tried To Secretly Market Anti-Cancer Drug

Associated Press

Fugitive financier Robert Vesco listened in a Cuban courtroom Saturday as Fidel Castro’s nephew and dozens of other witnesses testified about his alleged attempt to secretly market a new cancer drug.

Guarded by two soldiers clad in olive drab, the 60-year-old American sat next to a court interpreter who translated all the Spanish testimony into English.

During the first day of testimony Thursday, Vesco denied he had tried to put the drug on the market without Cuban authorities’ permission.

Vesco fled the United States 25 years ago to avoid prosecution on charges he bilked mutual fund investors of $224 million. The State Department pressed Cuba again this week to extradite him for trial in the United States.

Though he initially found refuge here, Vesco now faces up to 20 years in a Cuban prison for alleged economic crimes against the communist nation - specifically, trying to develop and market the drug TX without the government’s knowledge.

The witnesses, mostly government employees, told of how Vesco persuaded them to conduct pre-clinical tests on the drug - which some believe has the potential to cure cancer and perhaps even AIDS for use among the Cuban population.

Later, they said, they discovered clinical trials of the drug were being conducted in other countries without Cuba’s consent and that there had been initial attempts to market the drug outside Cuba.

But Jose Antonio Fraga Castro, director of the laboratory that conducted the pre-clinical tests, said he ordered prototypes of the drug to be made shortly before the government canceled its contract with Vesco. Fraga Castro acted in hopes of persuading the Agricultural Ministry not to abandon the project, he said.

As Castro’s nephew, Fraga Castro’s testimony had been eagerly anticipated.

Fraga Castro said he didn’t learn of Vesco’s past until after the project began, but had continued backing the project even then because of its potential.

“It seemed to be worth the problems to continue,” he testified, standing before the three-woman, two-man Provincial Tribunal of Havana.

None of Saturday’s testimony indicated any wrongdoing by Cuban officials.

A verdict in the case and any sentence is not expected for several weeks.

© Copyright 1996 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email