Ex-Panama leader Noriega extradited to France

27th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega arrived in Paris on Tuesday after the United States extradited him to face trial in France on charges of laundering drug money.

An Air France plane carrying the 74-year-old landed at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport shortly before 8:00 am (0600 GMT) and he was taken directly to a Paris courthouse to formally hear the charges against him.

The former strongman left a Miami prison on Monday where he served 17 years after being deposed in 1989 when former US president George Bush sent troops into Panama to arrest him.

Noriega had for years fought extradition to France, where in 1999 he was convicted in absentia of laundering drug profits and sentenced to 10 years in jail. France has agreed to hold a new trial.

Noriega was to appear before a Paris judge who was expected to order that he be remanded in custody pending a trial that could begin within two months, French officials said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an extradition order in Washington on Monday, ending years of legal wrangling over Noriega's fate.

Once a prized CIA asset, Noriega rose to power in Panama as a military intelligence chief and later as head of the military in the 1980s.

But his relations with Washington soured amid reports he had become deeply involved in drug trafficking and suspicions that he was also collaborating with Cuba.

In December 1989, Bush ordered Noriega's capture to face trial in the United States, sending troops into Panama in Operation Just Cause.

After Noriega sought refuge in the Vatican embassy, US troops surrounded the building, blasting heavy metal music to wear down his resistance.

A 10-day standoff ended on January 2 1990 when Noriega walked out of the embassy and surrendered to US forces who flew him to Miami, Florida.

He was tried on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering and sentenced to 40 years in prison. That sentence was reduced to 17 years for good behaviour.

Since then, he had remained in US custody while fighting extradition requests by France.

The US Supreme Court threw out a bid in March by Noriega to halt the extradition, closing the last legal avenue for the former military strongman to escape French justice.

Noriega's Paris lawyer said he would challenge the French court's jurisdiction on the grounds that his client enjoys immunity as an ex-head of state and that the statute of limitations had run out.

"We will challenge the French court's authority in the case," said lawyer Yves Leberquier.

The lawyer also argued that Noriega had been given the status of prisoner of war in the United States and that afforded him certain detention rights "that French prisons cannot fulfill".

France was formally notified two weeks ago that Noriega would be extradited, a justice ministry spokesman said.

During the French trial in 1999, a judge had convicted Noriega in absentia of laundering several million euros from Colombian drug traffickers through the scandal-tainted Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Panama, which has convicted him three times for human rights violations, each carrying a 20-year sentence, said it respected the US decision.

© 2010 AFP

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