Wed, Apr 28, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Ex-dictator Noriega faces charges after extradition to France


Former Panamanian president Manuel Noriega faced money laundering charges in a French courtroom yesterday after being extradited from the US, opening up a whole new legal battle for the strongman who spent two decades behind bars in Florida for drug trafficking.

French authorities claim Noriega, who was ousted in a US invasion in 1989, had laundered about US$3 million in drug proceeds by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris.

Noriega was convicted in absentia, but France agreed to give him a new trial if he was extradited.

The 72-year-old Noriega arrived yesterday morning on a direct flight from Miami and was served with an international arrest warrant. He could face another 10 years in prison if convicted in France.

Noriega’s French lawyers are seeking his immediate release, saying his detention and transfer are unlawful. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had signed a surrender warrant for Noriega after a federal judge in Miami lifted a stay blocking his extradition last month.

Noriega appeared before prosecutors behind closed doors at the main Paris courthouse yesterday and they read him the warrant, the first step before any other judicial action can be taken against him in France.

He was then escorted out in an armored car with darkened windows.

He was to return to the courthouse later yesterday to appear before a judge who will decide whether to keep him behind bars or release him under judicial supervision pending further action.

If he is released, even to house arrest or under other strict legal controls, that would be a major victory after a generation behind bars.

“The man appears to be very weak,” said Olivier Metzner, one of his French lawyers.

Yves Leberquier, Noriega’s other French lawyer, said the former dictator was half-­paralyzed since suffering from a mild stroke four years ago.

Leberquier said it was illegal to try a former head of state who should have immunity from prosecution.

Other legal objections are that Noriega is considered a prisoner of war, a status Leberquier said French jails aren’t ready to accommodate, and that the charges against him are no longer valid because the acts he is accused of happened too long ago, the lawyer said.

Noriega was declared a POW after his 1992 drug conviction by a Miami federal judge.

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