US judge backs Noriega's extradition to France

29th August 2007, Comments 0 comments

US judge backs Noriega's extradition to France

MIAMI, Aug 28, 2007 (AFP) - A federal judge on Tuesday approved the extradition to France of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega after he completes his US prison sentence on September 9.

Judge William Turnoff handed down the decision at a hearing in Miami after US government lawyers requested Noriega, 72, be sent to France, where he has been convicted in absentia for money laundering and sentenced to 10 years.

Noriega was a US ally during the Cold War and worked for years with the Central Intelligence Agency, but he eventually fell out of favor with Washington amid charges he was involved in narcotics trafficking.

Noriega had asked to be returned to his home country, even though he has also been convicted in absentia in the Central American country for crimes committed during his rule from 1983-1989.

The ex-dictator's lawyers alleged the ruling was a result of a secret deal between France and Panama and argued their client was protected by the Geneva Conventions.

They said because Noriega was captured during the US military invasion, he should be repatriated upon completing his prison time.

But the judge rejected their argument.

"The rights asserted by General Noriega simply do not exist under the Geneva Conventions," Turnoff said.

His ruling came after another federal judge on Friday ruled that an extradition to France would not violate the international treaty.

Noriega's lawyers condemned the ruling and said they would likely file an appeal.

"The US government has not respected the rule of law," said one of Noriega's lawyers, Frank Rubino.

"France has no intent to treat general Noriega as a prisoner of war. France will treat him as a common criminal," Rubino told reporters.

Under US law, the judge will formally issue a recommendation on Wednesday and then the State Department will have the final say on Noriega's transfer.

After mounting tensions between Panama and the United States, Noriega was captured in the US invasion of 1989 ordered by then President George H.W. Bush, the father of the current US president, and was convicted by US authorities of drug trafficking.

Panamanian authorities filed a similar request for extradition in 1991 and sentenced him to 40 years in prison for his role in the disappearance and murder of opposition members.

But defense lawyers for the former general charged the Panamanian government had taken no legal step to block the French request, and alleged Panama secretly supported his transfer to France.

"Could it be that there are elements in the Panamanian government that do not want General Noriega's repatriation?" the defense team said in the petition that was denied on Friday.

"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 alleged.

In France, authorities said Noriega would be given a new trial on the money laundering charges.

French authorities allege Noriega deposited profits from cocaine trafficking in French bank accounts in the 1980s, with the drug sales worth about 3.15 million dollars, according to court papers.

The former head of Panamian intelligence is also accused of using the drug profits to buy three posh apartments in France.

In 1992, Noriega was sentenced by a US judge to 40 years in prison for drug trafficking, but the penalty was later reduced to 30 years, and was then shortened again for good behavior.

AFP

Subject: French news

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