Panama's ex-dictator Noriega jailed in France

In this Jan. 1990, U.S. Marshalls photo, deposed Panamanian Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega is seen at an undisclosed location. (AP Photo)

April 27, 2010 11:01:51 AM PDT
A French judge ordered former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega jailed Tuesday pending a trial for money laundering, a decision made only hours after Noriega was extradited from the United States following two decades in a Miami prison. His arrival in France opens up a whole new legal battle for the strongman, who was deposed after a 1989 U.S. invasion and went on to spend 20 years in prison for drug trafficking.

After finishing his U.S. sentence, Noriega was extradited from Miami and arrived Tuesday in Paris, where he was immediately served with an arrest warrant.

Hours later, he went before a French judge and pleaded to be sent home to Panama, citing his prisoner of war status. Noriega spoke little during the hearing and appeared tired. Wearing a white button-up shirt and black jacket, his black hair thinning, he periodically rested his head in one hand during the proceedings.

The judge denied Noriega's request, saying he posed a flight risk if released. The judge ordered Noriega jailed in Paris' La Sante prison pending further judicial action. Noriega was escorted out a side door of the court by armed guards.

His lawyers said they would appeal the decision.

Noriega could face another 10 years in prison in France if convicted on charges that he laundered $7 million in drug profits through French banks and purchasing luxury apartments with his wife in Paris.

Noriega has already been convicted in France on the charges, but in absentia. France has agreed to give him a new trial if he was extradited.

French Justice Ministry spokesman Guillaume Didier said Noriega could face a new trial within two months.

Noriega's French lawyers say his detention and transfer are unlawful.

Panama also has an outstanding request for the former dictator's extradition. He was convicted in Panama in absentia and sentenced to 60 years in prison on charges of embezzlement, corruption and murdering opponents.

Noriega was Panama's longtime intelligence chief before he took power in 1982. He had been considered a valued CIA asset for years, but as a ruler he joined forces with drug traffickers and was implicated in the death of a political opponent.

Noriega was ousted as Panama's leader and put on trial following a U.S. military invasion ordered by President George H.W. Bush. Noriega was brought to Miami and was convicted of drug racketeering and related charges in 1992.

He finished serving his term in federal prison outside Miami in 2007, but stayed in prison while France sought his extradition.

Noriega came to France after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed a surrender warrant Monday. A federal judge in Miami lifted a stay blocking his extradition last month.

If Noriega had been released in France, it would have been a major victory after a generation behind bars. It could also be an awkward situation for France, where a string of former dictators from Haiti to West Africa have settled in the past, sometimes in luxurious homes purchased with money of dubious origin.


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