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Indictment: Diplomat’s ‘purpose’ as agent for Cuba was to hand over classified information

A former U.S. ambassador was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Miami on charges of conspiring to act as a secret agent for Cuba over the span of a 40-year career in the State Department and private sector for the “purpose” of turning over classified information to the intelligence service in Havana.

Victor Manuel Rocha, 73, a former U.S. ambassador to Bolivia who was arrested Friday by FBI agents in Miami, is accused in the new indictment of conspiring as an agent for Cuba since 1981 to obtain “sensitive” U.S. government secrets and “provide such information to agents or representatives of the Republic of Cuba.”

The indictment, which expands upon a criminal complaint unsealed Monday, further accuses Rocha of using “access to [classified] information for the benefit” of Cuba and disclosing “such information without authorization.”

The 15-count indictment charges Rocha, who ended his government career as ambassador in 2002 but continued to work in the national-security field, with conspiracy to defraud the United States. He’s accused of failing to register as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, wire fraud stemming from his State Department pension and making false statements related to his U.S. passport applications. But while the 35-page indictment hits Rocha harder than an FBI criminal complaint made public earlier, it does not cite any particular “overt act” in the conspiracy accusing him of handing over classified materials to his Cuban intelligence handlers.

In other words, Rocha is not accused of committing espionage — though on Monday Attorney General Merrick Garland described him much like a spy, saying the unusual national security case “exposes one of the highest-reaching and longest-lasting infiltrations of the United States government by a foreign agent.”

Rocha’s defense attorney, Jacqueline Arango, who had a long career in the U.S. Attorney’s Office before joining the Akerman law firm in Miami, did not respond to a request for comment. Her client is facing a detention hearing before Magistrate Judge Edwin Torres on Dece. 12, when prosecutors Jonathan Stratton and John Shipley plan to seek Rocha’s detention based on his multiple passports from the U.S. and Dominican Republic, ability to flee the country, and the seriousness of the charges against him.

An FBI affidavit filed with the criminal complaint says that the FBI received a tip in November 2022 that Rocha had been working as a “covert agent” for Cuba. The indictment elaborated on that allegation, saying that the bureau discovered that Rocha first pledged his loyalty to the Cuban intelligence service in 1973 when he was living in Chile and elsewhere. At that time, the indictment says, Rocha became a “great friend” of the Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence and that he forged his relationship as covert agent when he started working for State Department in 1981 — three years after the Colombian native was naturalized as a U.S. citizen and had earned degrees from Yale, Harvard and Georgetown universities.

Like the affidavit, the indictment alleges that an FBI undercover employee posing as a covert Cuban General Directorate of Intelligence representative was able to approach Rocha through a WhatsApp text and then spoke with him by phone about his past relationship with Cuba and how Rocha could be helpful with a problem at the Cuban embassy in the Dominican Republic. Rocha agreed to meet with the FBI undercover employee during a series of video-recorded meetings in Miami over the past year in which the former diplomat repeatedly admitted his “decades” of work for Cuba that spanned “40 years.”

Throughout the meetings in Miami, Rocha behaved as a Cuban agent, consistently referring to the United States as “the enemy,” and using the term “we” to describe himself and Cuba, according to the indictment. Rocha also praised the late Fidel Castro as the “Comandante,” and referred to his contacts in Cuban intelligence as his “compañeros” (comrades) and to the Cuban intelligence services as the “Dirección.”

Rocha also revealed that he took his last trip to Cuba in 2016 or 2017, when he traveled with his Dominican Republic passport instead of his U.S. passport via Panama to Havana. “From Panama ... I entered ... as a Dominican,” he told the FBI undercover employee.