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Journalist Investigating Bank Was Second To Die

August 15, 1991 GMT

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ A journalist whose body was found in a West Virginia hotel may have been the second reporter investigating the Bank of Commerce and Credit International to die mysteriously, colleagues said.

The Luxembourg-based bank is engulfed in a banking scandal involving alleged massive fraud, laundering of drug money and support of terrorists.

Joseph D. Casolaro, 44, of Fairfax, Va., who friends said was investigating the bank among other things, was found dead Saturday in the bathtub of his room at the Sheraton Inn in Martinsburg, in the state’s Eastern Panhandle.

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His wrists had been slashed and authorities initially ruled the death a suicide. The body was embalmed and an autopsy was not ordered until after family members were contacted. Details of the autopsy performed Wednesday were to be released later today.

Casolaro had been working for a year on a book on allegations the Justice Department stole software from Washington, D.C.-based INSLAW Inc.

The company has alleged the software, useful in tracking dissidents, may have been sold to foreign intelligence agencies. The case has been tied up in federal court since 1986.

Casolaro had told friends he was going to West Virginia to talk to a source and had uncovered information that would ″bury the Justice Department.″

″Dan dealt in this nebulous, shadowy world,″ said Dick O’Connell, a friend of Casolaro’s and publisher of Washington Crime News Services, which publishes more than a dozen law enforcement-related newsletters.

″He was saying ‘they’ took that INSLAW software and sold it overseas and took the profits from that and turned it into arms for the Contras,″ O’Connell said Wednesday. ″That’s what he was working on and he told me he thought BCCI was the conduit for all of these money transactions.″

O’Connell noted that Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., said at a hearing on BCCI last week that a freelance journalist killed July 29 in Guatemala City had told acquaintances he was working on a ″big story″ related to BCCI in Guatemala.

The reporter, Anson Ng Yong, a Malaysian-born British citizen, was found dead in his apartment with a single gunshot wound in his head in what Cranston said had the appearances of a professional killing.

Cranston said Ng’s murder was suspected to be related to arms trafficking allegedly carried out by BCCI in collusion with top leaders of Guatemalan military.

However, Guatemalan Interior Minister Fernando Hurtado Prem quickly discounted a political link, calling Ng’s killing ″a common crime.″

And diplomats, investigators and friends of Ng in Guatemala who spoke on condition of anonymity have said they saw no evidence of a connection to the BCCI scandal.

Family members, friends and colleagues have said Casolaro couldn’t have killed himself and believed he was close to proving a link between the INSLAW case, BCCI and the alleged delay in the release of American hostages in Iran until after President Reagan took office in 1981.

″I believe he had the final necessary link to give it credibility and plausibility and that’s the reason they took him out,″ O’Connell said. ″There is no way this man could have committed suicide.″

INSLAW owner Bill Hamilton said Casolaro had been warned many times that his life was in danger as he tried to link the three stories.

″Common sense would dictate that where people’s reputations and, in fact, perhaps criminal activities (are questioned), that they’re going to want to protect that,″ said Alan Boyack, an attorney in St. George, Utah.

Boyack has been retained to assist one of the individuals who claims to be a ″major player″ in both the INSLAW case and the hostage release.

Justice Department spokesman Doug Tillet said local authorities were investigating the death. He declined further comment.

Martinsburg police have not returned repeated calls since Tuesday. They have said only that they have not ruled out homicide.