WASHINGTON - A key figure in the scandal over illegal loans made by the Atlanta branch of Italy's Banca Nazionale del Lavoro to Iraq pleaded guilty Thursday in a deal with U.S. prosecutors to three criminal charges, the Justice Department said.

Department spokesman Carl Stern said the former Atlanta branch manager, Christopher Drogoul, pleaded guilty to two counts of making false statements to the Federal Reserve Board and one count of wire fraud.

Mr. Drogoul could receive a maximum of 15 years in prison. Sentencing was set for Nov. 29 before U.S. District Judge G. Ernest Tidwell, who accepted the plea deal, in Atlanta.

Mr. Drogoul previously had been charged with 70 criminal counts.

The case stemmed from about $5 billion in fraudulent loans made by the Atlanta branch office to help Iraq buy food and weapons before the Persian Gulf war.

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