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News Briefs I

Mexican Banks To Plead Guilty in Money-Laundering Case

Los Angeles Times -- With their trial just days away, two of Mexico’s biggest banks have agreed to plead guilty to laundering millions of dollars for the Cali and Juarez drug cartels, sources close to the case said Monday.

Bancomer will pay $9.9 million in fines while Banca Serfin will pay $4.7 million as part of their separate deals with federal prosecutors in Los Angeles.

In a related development, the government has agreed to drop all criminal charges against a third Mexican financial institution, Banca Confia, in a civil settlement of the money laundering case.

Confia, which sold most of its assets to Citibank after it was indicted, has agreed not to fight the U.S. government’s earlier seizure of $12.1 million from its U.S. holdings.

All three banks were indicted last May with more than 100 people, mostly Mexicans, in Operation Casablanca, the Customs Service’s 2-year probe of international drug money laundering.

When it became public, the probe set off a diplomatic firestorm as Mexican officials complained of being kept in the dark about the cross-border operation. Customs agents said they deliberately withheld information because they feared a leak by corrupt Mexican law officers.

Supreme Court Declines to Hear Affirmative Action Case

THE WASHINGTON POST -- The Supreme Court on Monday refused once again to enter the contentious realm of affirmative action, declining to take a case from Dallas over the objection of two justices who argued that the court should examine the constitutionality of a program designed to benefit minority firefighters.

By turning away the case, the court ensured that the city of Dallas can no longer employ the affirmative action program it adopted a decade ago to help diversify the ranks of its firefighting force.

The justices’ action shows how much the subject of racial preferences continues to polarize the court. The court’s two Clinton appointees, Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, issued an unusual written dissent, urging the court to take the case.

The court majority did not explain why it rebuffed pleas from Dallas to overturn the lower court’s decision. But legal experts on both sides of the issue said Monday that the justices’ action was in keeping with the court’s coolness in recent years to the idea of special racial preferences in education and employment.

Narrow Majority of Americans Support Balkans Bombing

THE WASHINGTON POST -- With polls showing that a narrow majority of Americans support his handling of the Kosovo situation, President Clinton Monday stuck steadfastly to his policy of using airstrikes alone to combat Serb aggression.

For the first time since the airstrikes began six days ago, Clinton made no public statement about the warfare, delegating that duty to Vice President Al Gore.

As White House officials continued to ponder strategies for coping with a surprisingly resilient enemy in Yugoslavia, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 51 percent of Americans approve of “the way Bill Clinton is handling the situation in Kosovo.” Thirty-one percent disapprove, and the rest have no opinion. The poll, conducted on the third, fourth and fifth days of U.S. airstrikes, showed a rather modest increase in public support from the pre-bombing days.