Panama's Noriega battling to avoid French trial

7th September 2007, Comments 0 comments

MIAMI, Sept 6, 2007 (AFP) - Ex-dictator Manuel Noriega is battling from his Miami jail cell to avoid going to trial in France, stirring renewed controversy 17 years after the United States invaded Panama to capture its former ally whose drug trafficking had become an embarrassment.

MIAMI, Sept 6, 2007 (AFP) - Ex-dictator Manuel Noriega is battling from his Miami jail cell to avoid going to trial in France, stirring renewed controversy 17 years after the United States invaded Panama to capture its former ally whose drug trafficking had become an embarrassment.

With days to go before his initially planned September 9 release, Noriega's lawyers engaged in a renewed attempt to block their client's extradition to France, where he faces money laundering charges.

A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that pending a new ruling, US authorities cannot extradite Noriega, who was jailed in 1990 on drug trafficking charges.

At the heart of the defense argument is the claim that because he was detained by US troops during the military invasion of Panama, the 73-year-old general must be treated as a prisoner of war and not a common criminal.

Federal courts gave the green light for the extradition last month after rejecting defense claims that under the Geneva Conventions, Noriega must be returned home upon completion of his sentence.

The decision was partly based on statements that Noriega would be granted the same privileges in France as he enjoyed in the United States where he was declared a prisoner of war during his trial.

But the defense lawyers insist France had no intention of treating their client as a POW.

In a document filed on Thursday, they quoted French Ambassador to Panama, Pierre-Henri Guignard, as telling Panama's La Prensa daily that "in France Noriega would be an ordinary prisoner, not a prisoner of war."

In its response, the US government said it had lengthy discussions with France to ensure Noriega would "enjoy the same rights he has enjoyed during his imprisonment in the United States following his extradition to France."

The US attorneys said France described the specific rights Noriega would enjoy, but was not asked to declare him a prisoner of war as the two governments might have different interpretations of the Geneva Conventions.

A French court sentenced Noriega in absentia to 10 years in jail for money laundering in 1999; French authorities say he would be given a new trial on the charges that he deposited 3.15 million dollars in cocaine trafficking profits in French bank accounts in the 1980s.

Noriega is also wanted in Panama for his role in the disappearance and murder of opposition members. While those charges are far more serious than the ones he faces in France, his lawyers expressed certainty he would win a trial at home.

Noriega's outspoken lawyers claim some members of Panama's government were uneasy with the prospect Noriega would return, fearing he still had support in the Central American nation.

The defense team also bluntly suggested France had ulterior motives.

"Statements by the French ambassador to Panama, Pierre Henry Guignard, provide reason to believe that the French are seeking General Noriega's extradition as a quid pro quo for a 300,000,000 dollar contract to sell high-speed trains to Panama," the lawyers in a court document filed in July.

Noriega ruled Panama with an iron fist from 1984 until he surrendered on January 3, 1990 to US troops, three weeks after the start of the military invasion.

A US Cold War ally and a onetime CIA informer, Noriega was flown on a military plane to Miami, where he was tried on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.

His trial was surrounded by controversy amid mutually contradictory statements by witnesses, several of whom had been arrested for drug trafficking in Panama.

He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, but the sentence was later reduced.

AFP

Subject: French news

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