France to extradite Noriega to Panama: lawyer

3rd August 2011, Comments 0 comments

France is about to extradite former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega -- currently serving a French jail term for laundering drug money -- to face charges in his home country, his lawyer said.

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon signed the extradition order early last month and Noriega does not plan to appeal the decision, lawyer Yves Leberquier said late Tuesday.

Noriega, 77, was informed of the decree on Monday, Leberquier told AFP, adding that he believed his client would not be sent back before September.

French authorities did not immediately confirm the claim and a lawyer representing the state of Panama in France said he had not been informed of the decree.

France announced in June that it planned to launch extradition proceedings to send Noriega back home to Panama to face justice.

Noriega has three convictions for human rights violations in Panama, dating to his military rule there from 1983 to 1989. Each conviction carries a 20-year prison sentence.

The pock-marked general known as "Pineapple Face" was deposed by US troops who invaded Panama in December 1989.

The one-time strongman was a key asset for the US Central Intelligence Agency but fell out with Washington when he turned his strategically important country into a drugs hub.

Noriega was sentenced by a Paris court in July last year to seven years in jail for laundering the equivalent of 2.3 million euros (then $2.8 million) from the Medellin drug cartel through French banks.

The drug money transited through the now-defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International in the late 1980s and was used by Noriega's wife and a shell company to buy three luxury apartments in Paris.

A French court had previously sentenced Noriega to 10 years in jail when he was tried in absentia in 1999 on the same charges, but he was given a re-trial as part of the terms for his extradition from the United States last year.

Noriega had served 20 years in a US jail in Miami -- after convictions for drug trafficking and money laundering -- before being extradited to France.

Panama has said that the United States has given its approval for Noriega to be extradited to Panama. Washington's consent was required under existing treaties since he had not yet served his full jail term in the United States.

Noriega rose to power in Panama as a military intelligence chief close to General Omar Torrijos, a left-leaning military strongman and father of the future president.

After Torrijos's death in a mysterious 1981 plane crash, Noriega consolidated his power, ultimately becoming the head of the military and the country's most feared man.

By then his close relations with Washington had soured amid reports he had become deeply involved in drug trafficking and suspicions he was two-timing the CIA with the Cubans.

Escalating internal repression sent tensions soaring, culminating in the 1989 US invasion dubbed Operation Just Cause, which ended in Noriega's capture and removal to the United States as a prisoner of war.

© 2011 AFP

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