Noriega could be home in Panama for Christmas: lawyer

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Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega should be home for Christmas, and he may not go to prison after his extradition from France "because he is a sick man," his defense lawyer said Wednesday.

"General Noriega should be arriving in our country before Christmas," Julio Berrios told AFP.

The lawyer said Noriega, who was overthrown in a US invasion in 1989, had suffered two strokes in recent years "which have weakened his physical faculties."

He could be sent to prison on his arrival, Berrios said. "Or, if his health is very bad he will have to be taken to the hospital. It all depends on the state he is in when he arrives in the country."

A longtime intelligence chief who became the country's military ruler in 1983, Noriega spent 21 years in a Miami prison on drug charges after his overthrow, and then was extradited last year to France, where he was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of laundering money for the Medellin drug cartel.

Panama sought his extradition from France to serve three 20-year sentences for the murders of three opponents -- Hugo Spadafora, a doctor and former deputy health minister, in 1985; Captain Moises Giroldi in 1989; and union activist Heliodoro Portugal in 1970.

Noriega "has been fighting for 22 years to return to his country, confronting an empire like the United States, a power like France, and his own country which turned its back on him and friends who abandoned him," Berrios said.

The French courts on Wednesday received US authorization for a second request for Noriega's extradition to Panama, but delayed a decision until November 23.

"This week it will be determined whether the French prime minister must give his approval for (Noriega) to be sent to Panama. This should not be a problem because the French had already acceded to a previous extradition request."

© 2011 AFP

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