The Dark Side of Rev. Sun Myung Moon
Part 6, Drug Allies
By Robert Parry
October 13, 1997
Amid debates over the 115-year-old Pendleton Act and whether
it covers fund-raising phone calls from the White House, a more sinister
money-in-politics issue continues to go unnoticed: the vast political influence-buying
operation of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. The Clinton administration appears
no more interested in where Moon's mysterious millions originate than was
the Reagan-Bush administrations which benefitted from Moon's largesse.
Our recent series, "Dark Side of Rev. Moon," documented
how Moon's organization purchased influence through secret payments to key
political figures, including former President George Bush and Religious
Right leader Jerry Falwell. Moon also financed costly media outlets, such
as The Washington Times. Moon has built this U.S. network even as he tells
his followers that America is "Satan's harvest" and vows to subjugate
the American people under a Korea-based theocracy.
The series also revealed that Moon's organization still engages
in questionable financial practices. According to court records, the Moon
organization has been laundering money and diverting funds to buy personal
luxuries for Moon's family, including cocaine for Moon's son, Hyo Jin. The
financial sleights-of-hand are reminiscent of offenses that led to Moon's
conviction for tax evasion in 1982.
But since our series ran, more troubling facts about Moon's
international political connections have been brought to our attention.
Most disturbing, given Moon's free-spending ways, are his long-standing
ties to ultra-rightists linked to Asian organized crime and to the Latin
American drug trade. These associations -- and Moon's deepening business
operations in South America -- underscore the need for the U.S. government
to ascertain exactly how Moon is financing his U.S. political empire.
Moon's representatives refuse to detail publicly how they
sustain their far-flung operations. But they angrily rebut recurring allegations
about profiteering off illegal trafficking in weapons and drugs.
In a typical response to a gun-running question by the Argentine
newspaper, Clarin, Moon's representative Ricardo DeSena responded, "I
deny categorically these accusations and also the barbarities that are said
about drugs and brainwashing. Our movement responds to the harmony of the
races, nations and religions and proclaims that the family is the school
of love." [Clarin, July 7, 1996]
But Moon's relationships with drug-tainted gangsters and corrupt
right-wing politicians go back to the early days of his Unification Church
in Asia. Moon's Korea-based church made its first important inroads in Japan
in the early 1960s after gaining the support of Ryoichi Sasakawa, a leader
of the Japanese yakuza crime syndicate who once hailed Italian dictator
Benito Mussolini as "the perfect fascist." In Japan and Korea,
the shadowy yakuza ran lucrative drug smuggling, gambling and prostitution
The Sasakawa connection brought Moon both converts and clout
because Sasakawa was a behind-the-scenes leader of Japan's ruling Liberal
Democratic Party. On the international scene, Sasakawa helped found the
Asian People's Anti-Communist League, which united the heroin-stained leadership
of Nationalist China with rightists from Korea, Japan and elsewhere in Asia.
[For details, see Yakuza by David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro]
In 1966, the Asian league evolved into the World Anti-Communist
League with the inclusion of former Nazis from Europe, overt racialists
from the United States and "death squad" operatives from Latin
America, along with more traditional conservatives. Moon's followers played
important roles in both organizations, which also maintained close ties
to the CIA.
South American Drugs
Meanwhile, after World War II, South America was becoming a crossroads for
Nazi fugitives and drug smugglers. Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, the so-called
Butcher of Lyons, earned his living in Bolivia by selling his intelligence
skills, while other ex-Nazis trafficked in narcotics. Often the lines crossed.
In those years, Auguste Ricord, a French war criminal who
had collaborated with the Gestapo, set up shop in Paraguay. Ricord opened
up French Connection heroin channels to American Mafia drug kingpin Santo
Trafficante Jr., who controlled much of the heroin traffic into the United
States. Columns by Jack Anderson identified, Ricord's accomplices as some
of Paraguay's highest-ranking officers.
Another French Connection mobster, Christian David, relied
on protection of Argentine authorities. While trafficking in heroin, David
also "took on assignments for Argentina's terrorist organization, the
Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance," Henrik Kruger wrote in The Great
Heroin Coup. During President Nixon's "war on drugs," U.S. authorities
smashed this famous French Connection and won extraditions of Ricord and
David in 1972.
But by then, powerful drug lords had forged strong ties to
South America's military leaders. Other Trafficante-connected groups, including
right-wing anti-Castro Cubans in Miami, eagerly filled the drug void. Heroin
from the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia quickly replaced the French Connection
heroin that had come mostly from the Middle East.
During this period, the CIA actively collaborated with right-wing
army officers to oust left-leaning governments. And amid this swirl of anti-communism,
Moon became active in South America. His first visit to Argentina was in
1965 when he blessed a square behind the presidential Pink House in Buenos
Aires. He returned a decade later and began making high-level contacts in
Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay.
The far-right gained control of Argentina in 1976 with a Dirty
War that "disappeared" tens of thousands of Argentines. Michael
Levine, a star undercover agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration,
was assigned to Buenos Aires and was struck how "death was very much
a way of life in Argentina." [See Levine's Big White Lie]
A Nazi Reunion
In nearby coca-producing Bolivia, Nazi fugitive Klaus Barbie was working
as a Bolivian intelligence officer and drawing up plans for a putsch that
would add that central nation to the region's "stable axis" of
right-wing regimes. Barbie contacted Argentine intelligence for help.
One of the first Argentine intelligence officers who arrived
was Lt. Alfred Mario Mingolla. "Before our departure, we received a
dossier on [Barbie]," Mingolla later told German investigative reporter
Kai Hermann. "There it stated that he was of great use to Argentina
because he played an important role in all of Latin America in the fight
against communism. From the dossier, it was also clear that Altmann worked
for the Americans." [For an English translation of Hermann's detailed
account, see Covert Action Information Bulletin, Winter 1986]
As the Bolivian coup took shape, Bolivian Col. Luis Arce-Gomez,
the cousin of cocaine kingpin Roberto Suarez, recruited neo-fascist terrorists
such as Italian Stefano della Chiaie who had been working with the Argentine
death squads. [See Cocaine Politics by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall]
Dr. Alfredo Candia, the Bolivian leader of the World Anti-Communist League,
was coordinating the arrival of these paramilitary operatives from Argentina
and Europe, Hermann reported. Meanwhile, Barbie started a secret lodge,
called Thule. During meetings, he lectured to his followers underneath swastikas
While the CIA was encouraging this aggressive anti-communism
on one level, Levine and his DEA field agents were moving against some of
the conspirators for drug crimes. In May 1980, DEA in Miami seized 854 pounds
of cocaine base and arrested two top Bolivian traffickers from the Roberto
Suarez organization. But Levine saw the bust double-crossed, he suspected,
for geo-political reasons.
One suspect, Jose Roberto Gasser "was almost immediately
released from custody by the Miami U.S. attorney's office," Levine
wrote. (Gasser was the son of Bolivian WACL associate Erwin Gasser, a leading
figure in the upcoming coup.) The other defendant saw his bail lowered,
letting him flee the United States. Levine worried about the fate of Bolivian
officials who had helped DEA. [See Levine's Deep Cover]
On June 17, 1980, in nearly public planning for the coup,
six of Bolivia's biggest traffickers met with the military conspirators
to hammer out a financial deal for future protection of the cocaine trade.
A La Paz businessman said the coming putsch should be called the "Cocaine
Coup," a name that would stick. [Cocaine Politics]
Less than three weeks later, on July 6, DEA agent Levine met
with a Bolivian trafficker named Hugo Hurtado-Candia. Over drinks, Hurtado
outlined plans for the "new government" in which his niece Sonia
Atala, a major cocaine supplier, will "be in a very strong position."
Later, an Argentine secret policeman told Levine that the
CIA knew about the coup. "You North Americans amaze me. Don't you speak
to your own people?" the officer wondered. "Do you think Bolivia's
government -- or any government in South America -- can be changed without
your government and mine being aware of it?"
When Levine asked why that affected the planned DEA investigation,
the Argentine answered, "Because the same people he's naming as drug
dealers are the people we are helping to rid Bolivia of leftists. ...Us.
The Argentines ... working with your CIA." [Big White Lie]
The Cocaine Coup Cometh
On July 17, the Cocaine Coup began, spearheaded by Barbie and his neo-fascist
goon squad dubbed Fiances of Death. "The masked thugs were not Bolivians;
they spoke Spanish with German, French and Italian accents," Levine
wrote. "Their uniforms bore neither national identification nor any
markings, although many of them wore Nazi swastika armbands and insignias."
The slaughter was fierce. When the putschists stormed the
national labor headquarters, they wounded labor leader Marcelo Quiroga,
who had led the effort to indict former military dictator Hugo Banzer on
drug and corruption charges. Quiroga "was dragged off to police headquarters
to be the object of a game played by some of the torture experts imported
from Argentina's dreaded Mechanic School of the Navy," Levine wrote.
"These experts applied their 'science' to Quiroga as
a lesson to the Bolivians, who were a little backward in such matters. They
kept Quiroga alive and suffering for hours. His castrated, tortured body
was found days later in a place called 'The valley of the Moon' in southern
La Paz." Women captives were gang-raped as part of their torture.
To Levine back in Buenos Aires, it was soon clear "that
the primary goal of the revolution was the protection and control of Bolivia's
cocaine industry. All major drug traffickers in prison were released, after
which they joined the neo-Nazis in their rampage. Government buildings were
invaded and trafficker files were either carried off or burned. Government
employees were tortured and shot, the women tied and repeatedly raped by
the paramilitaries and the freed traffickers."
The fascists celebrated with swastikas and shouts of "Heil
Hitler!" Hermann reported. Col. Arce-Gomez, a central-casting image
of a bemedaled, pot-bellied Latin dictator, grabbed broad powers as Interior
Minister. Gen. Luis Garcia Meza was installed as Bolivia's new president.
Moon & the Putschists
Among the first well-wishers arriving in La Paz to congratulate the new
government was Moon's top lieutenant, Bo Hi Pak. The Moon organization published
a photo of Pak meeting with Gen. Garcia Meza. After the visit to the mountainous
capital, Pak declared, "I have erected a throne for Father Moon in
the world's highest city."
According to later Bolivian government and newspaper reports,
a Moon representative invested about $4 million in preparations for the
coup. Bolivia's WACL representatives also played key roles, and CAUSA, one
of Moon's anti-communist organizations, listed as members nearly all the
leading Bolivian coup-makers. [CAIB, Winter 1986]
After the coup, Arce-Gomez went into partnership with big
narco-traffickers, including Trafficante's Cuban-American smugglers. Klaus
Barbie and his neo-fascists got a new assignment: protecting Bolivia's major
cocaine barons and transporting drugs to the border. [Cocaine Politics]
"The paramilitary units -- conceived by Barbie as a new
type of SS -- sold themselves to the cocaine barons," concluded Hermann.
"The attraction of fast money in the cocaine trade was stronger than
the idea of a national socialist revolution in Latin America."
According to Levine, Arce-Gomez boasted to one top trafficker:
"We will flood America's borders with cocaine." It was boast that
the coup-makers backed up.
"Bolivia soon became the principal supplier of cocaine
base to the then fledgling Colombian cartels, making themselves the main
suppliers of cocaine to the United States," Levine said. "And
it could not have been done without the tacit help of DEA and the active,
covert help of the CIA."
On Dec. 16, 1980, Cuban-American intelligence operative Ricardo
Morales told a Florida prosecutor that he had become an informer in Operation
Tick-Talks, a Miami-based investigation that implicated Frank Castro and
other Bay of Pigs veterans in a conspiracy to import cocaine from the new
military rulers of Bolivia. [Cocaine Politics]
Years later, Medellin cartel money-launderer Ramon Milian
Rodriguez testified before Senate hearings chaired by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
Milian Rodriguez stated that in the early days of the cartel, "Bolivia
was much more significant than the other countries." [April 6, 1988]
As the drug lords consolidated their power in Bolivia, the
Moon organization expanded its presence, too. Hermann reported that in early
1981, war criminal Barbie and Moon leader Thomas Ward were often seen together
in apparent prayer. Mingolla, the Argentine intelligence officer, described
Ward as his CIA paymaster, with the $1,500 monthly salary coming from the
CAUSA office of Ward's representative. [CAIB, Winter 1986]
On May 31, 1981, Moon representatives sponsored a CAUSA reception
at the Sheraton Hotel's Hall of Freedom in La Paz. Bo Hi Pak and Garcia
Meza led a prayer for President Reagan's recovery from an assassination
attempt. In his speech, Bo Hi Pak declared, "God had chosen the Bolivian
people in the heart of South America as the ones to conquer communism."
According to a later Bolivian intelligence report, the Moon organization
sought to recruit an "armed church" of Bolivians, with about 7,000
Bolivians receiving some paramilitary training.
But by late 1981, the obvious cocaine taint was straining U.S.-Bolivian
relations. "The Moon sect disappeared overnight from Bolivia as clandestinely
as they had arrived," Hermann reported. Only Ward and a couple of others
stayed on with the Bolivian information agency as it worked on a transition
back to civilian rule.
According to Hermann's account, Mingolla met Ward in the cafeteria
Fontana of La Paz's Hotel Plaza in March 1982. Ward was discouraged about
the Bolivian operation. "The whole affair with Altmann [Barbie], with
the whole fascism and Nazism bit, that was a dead-end street," Ward
complained. "It was stupid having Moon and CAUSA here." [CAIB,
Winter 1986] Ward could not be reached for comment about this article.
The Cocaine Coup leaders soon found themselves on the run.
Interior Minister Arce-Gomez was eventually extradited to Miami and is serving
a 30-year sentence for drug trafficking. Roberto Suarez got a 15-year prison
sentence. Gen. Garcia Meza is a fugitive from a 30-year sentence imposed
on him in Bolivia for abuse of power, corruption and murder. Barbie was
returned to France to face a life sentence for war crimes. He died in 1992.
But Moon's organization paid little price for the Cocaine
Coup. Funding U.S. conservative political conferences and founding the ultra-conservative
Washington Times in 1982, Moon ingratiated himself to President Reagan and
other leading Republicans. Moon also continued to build a political-economic
base in South America.
In 1984, The New York Times called Moon's church "one
of the largest foreign investors" in Uruguay, having invested some
$70 million in the three preceding years. Investments included Uruguay's
third largest bank, the Banco de Credito; the Hotel Victoria Plaza in Montevideo;
and the newspaper, Ultimas Noticias. Moon's venture were aided by generous
tax breaks from Uruguay's military government. "Church officials said
Uruguay was especially attractive because of liberal laws that allow easy
repatriation of profits abroad," the Times reported. [NYT, 2-16-84]
Supporting the Nicaraguan contra rebels, Moon's organization
developed close ties, too, with the powerful Honduran military which gave
the contras base camps along the Nicaraguan border. Again, Moon's representatives
were in contact with officers suspected of supporting the shipment of cocaine
into the United States. Anti-Castro Cubans linked to the Miami drug networks
also appeared on the scene to advance the anti-communist cause as did intelligence
officers from the Argentine military.
The Honduran Connection
Kerry's Senate report concluded that Honduras became an important way station
for cocaine shipments heading north. "Elements of the Honduran military
were involved ... in the protection of drug traffickers from 1980 on,"
the report stated. "These activities were reported to appropriate U.S.
government officials throughout the period. Instead of moving decisively
to close down the drug trafficking by stepping up the DEA presence in the
country and using the foreign assistance the United States was extending
to the Hondurans as a lever, the United States closed the DEA office in
Tegucigalpa and appears to have ignored the issue." [Drug, Law Enforcement
and Foreign Policy -- the Kerry Report -- December 1988]
In the mid-1980s, when journalists and congressional investigators
began probing the evidence of contra-connected drug trafficking, they encountered
harsh attacks from Moon's Washington Times. An Associated Press story that
I co-wrote with Brian Barger was denounced on the Times' front page as a
"political ploy." [April 11, 1986]
The Times attacked Kerry's investigators first for wasting
money [Aug. 13, 1986] and then with obstructing justice [Jan. 21, 1987].
Now, with a clearer picture of Moon's historic ties to drug-tainted officials
in South America, the harassment of these investigations takes on a different
appearance, of possible self-protection. [See our "Dark Side of Rev.
Moon" series for more details.]
More recently, Moon has shifted his base of operation to a
luxurious estate in Uruguay and continued to expand his South American holdings.
He has invested heavily in the Argentine province of Corrientes, a border
area near Paraguay that is known as a major smuggling center.
In a sermon to his followers on Jan. 2, 1996, Moon announced
plans to begin building small airstrips in remote areas of South America
as well as bases for submarines to evade Coast Guard patrols. Saying the
airfield project would be for tourism, he added that "in the near future,
we will have many small airports throughout the world." The submarines,
he said, were needed because "there are so many restrictions due to
national boundaries worldwide."
With his history and prominence, Moon and his organization
would seem a natural attraction for U.S. government scrutiny. But Moon may
have purchased insurance against any intrusive investigation by buying so
many powerful American politicians that Washington's power centers can no
more afford the scrutiny than he can. ~
Robert Parry is a veteran investigative reporter, who broke
many of the Iran-contra stories in the 1980s for The Associated Press and
Newsweek. Robert Parry's latest book is Secrecy & Privilege: Rise
of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq. It can be purchased at
It's also available at
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