US extradites Noriega to France

27th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

The United States extradited former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega to France Monday to face money-laundering charges after years of legal wrangling, US and French officials said.

Noriega was placed on board an Air France jet, escorted by French prison officials, shortly after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an extradition order in Washington, officials said.

The plane departed for Charles De Gaulle airport at 5:46 pm (2146 GMT).

The flight ended a long legal battle by Noriega, 75, to stave off extradition to France where he faces charges of money-laundering after spending two decades in US custody following his 1989 overthrow in a US invasion.

Noriega's lawyer, Frank Rubino, told AFP in Miami that he had not been informed of the action.

"Neither the State Department or the Justice Department has the courtesy to call me and tell me that the order was signed or if the general Noriega has been taking away," he said.

A State Department spokesman announced the extradition after US television networks showed video of what they said was Noriega being led from a van into the Miami International Airport.

"Now that all judicial challenges to Noriega's extradition have been resolved, the Secretary of State issued a surrender warrant for his extradition to France," said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.

In Paris, a spokesman for the French Justice ministry said the extradition was under way.

"France had been notified of this extradition two weeks ago," said spokesman Guillaume Didier, in confirming that Clinton had signed the extradition order.

Officials from France's penitentiary administration took custody of Noriega in Miami, sources in Paris said.

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

Once a prized CIA asset, Noriega rose to power in Panama as a military intelligence chief close to General Omar Torrijos, a left-leaning military strongman.

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.

By then his close relations with the United States had soured amid reports he had become deeply involved in drug trafficking, and suspicions he was two-timing the CIA with the Cubans.

Escalating internal repressing sent tensions soaring, culminating in the 1989 US invasion dubbed Operation Just Cause, which ended in Noriega's capture and removal to the United States.

He was tried in Florida on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering and served a 17 year prison sentence, which he completed in 2007. Since then, he had remained in US custody while fighting extradition requests by France.

France sentenced him in absentia in 1999 to ten years in prison but now wants to try him on money-laundering charges.

"When he arrives in France he will go before prosecutors to be notified of the arrest warrant against him," said Didier, the French Justice Ministry spokesman.

A judge will then decide whether to order him placed under temporary detention until his case is referred to a criminal court, he said.

© 2010 AFP

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