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1989: Irangate colonel avoids prison

Former White House aide Oliver North has escaped jail for his part in the Iran-Contra affair.

The decorated Vietnam veteran was convicted of three - out of 12 - charges relating to illegal United States' support for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the mid-1980s.

He received a three-year suspended prison sentence, two years on probation, 1,200 hours' community service with inner city drugs projects and a $150,000 (94,000) fine.


"Jail would only harden your misconceptions"

Judge Gesell

The retired lieutenant-colonel has also had his annual service pension - of $23,100 (14,400) - suspended after 20 years in the US Marines and he has been barred from holding any federal office.

In his summing up at the US District Court in Washington Judge Gerhard Gesell described North, 45, as a "low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors."

Many commentators have expressed surprise at the leniency of the sentence for offences which attract a maximum 10 years in prison and $750,000 (470,000) fine.

But Judge Gesell - who came to prominence during the Watergate trials - explained: "I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions."

North was found guilty in May of falsifying and destroying documents, obstructing Congress and illegally receiving the gift of a security fence around his home in Virginia.

He had earlier shown remorse, saying: "I recognise that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes...and I grieve every day."

The married father-of-four is expected to pay off the fine with just six of his many speaking engagements.

But he has said he will appeal against the judgement.

Ronald Reagan - who was then president - sacked Oliver North when the scandal first came to light in November 1986.

North's boss, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, was fined and sentenced to community service after his trial concluded in March.

In Context
Another of North's superiors, John Poindexter, who succeeded McFarlane as National Security Adviser in December 1985, was convicted the following year, of conspiracy, obstructing congressional enquiries and lying to Congress.

Those charges were later overturned.

The appeal court reversed North's three convictions in 1991.

Later that year he published an autobiography, Under Fire: An American Story.

In 1994 North ran as the Republican candidate for the US Senate from Virginia, but lost the election.

Since 1995 he has hosted radio and television programmes in the US and heads the political action group V-PAC.


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