French court to rule on Noriega extradition on September 23

8th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

A French court will decide on September 23 whether or not to send former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega home to face imprisonment there, his lawyer said Thursday.

Noriega, who was overthrown by a US invasion in 1989, is serving a sentence in France after being convicted of money-laundering there.

Having served five of his seven years he is eligible for parole and has asked to be released, but Prime Minister Francois Fillion has ordered that he be extradited to Panama once his sentence is over.

If and when the pock-marked 77-year-old former general, nicknamed "Pineapple Face", does arrive back in Panama, he is expected to have to begin serving the lengthy sentences he received in absentia there.

He has three convictions for gruesome human rights violations, including the death of a military commander, dating to his military rule from 1983 to 1989. Each conviction carries a 20-year prison sentence.

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

He 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 Colombia's 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.

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

Panama has said the United States has given its approval for Noriega to be extradited from France. US consent is 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' 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.

© 2011 AFP

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