The background on France's case against Noriega

29th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

The background on France's case against Noriega

PARIS, Aug 28, 2007 (AFP) - France has been seeking the extradition of former Panamanian dictator General Manuel Antonio Noriega for a 1999 conviction on money laundering.

Noriega, 72, faces a 10-year sentence and a 11.2-million-euro (15 million dollar) fine in France for allegedly funneling millions of euros in Colombian drug money through a new-defunct bank, the Bank of Credit and Commercial International (BCCI).

However, as Noriega opposed the judgement in 2002, the case is to be retried once he arrives in the country, French legal sources said.

Noriega is due to complete his US prison sentence for drug trafficking on September 9.

According to French records, the former leader and those close to him opened some 20 accounts in the Paris and Marseille branches of the French banks BNP, CIC and Credit Lyonnais, as well as in the Banco do Brazil.

Noriega's wife, Felicidad, was also convicted in 1999 to a 10-year prison sentence and a 15.2-million-euro fine for having allegedly laundered a greater sum of money.

The prosecutor's office in Paris opened its inquiry into Noriega's assets in 1989, when the US military invaded Panama.

A French judge went to Miami in 1995 to officially inform the ousted dictator that he had been placed under criminal investigation, a step short of charges being laid.

Noriega told the investigating judge the money did not come from drug trafficking, but from a personal fortune and from the CIA.

French judges subsequently determined, on the basis of the testimony of former members of the Medellin drug cartel, that Noriega's money did in fact come from his use of Panama as an intersection for the world cocaine trade.

They allege that Panamanian secret service officers deposited money into Panamanian accounts of the BCCI that was then wired to BCCI offices in London, France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Germany.

In all, seven million euros in funds were frozen between 1982 and 1989, and three luxurious Paris apartments acquired by Noriega's wife or by front companies were identified.

However, French legislation introduced in December 1988 allowed for Noriega's trial in absentia for money he allegedly invested between that date and the US invasion a year later -- roughly three million of the 20 million euros estimated to have transited through Noriega's BCCI accounts between 1983 and 1989.

AFP

Subject: French news

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