A Paris court has convicted former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega of laundering drug money in France and ordered him to spend seven years behind bars — a decision that left friends and foes worried he might die in a prison far from home.
Wednesday’s sentence in France, where Noriega was extradited 10 weeks ago, came on top of his two decades already spent in a US prison. The court said there was enough evidence to establish that the equivalent millions of euros that flowed through Noriega’s French bank accounts in the late 1980s were kickbacks from drug traffickers.
The three-judge panel ordered the seizure of 2.3 million euros (US$2.89 million) frozen in his French bank accounts. They also demanded that he pay 1 million euros in damages to Panama and 2.3 million euros in customs fines.
For Noriega, who gives his age as 76 and is in poor health, the future is cloudy. Despite the seven-year sentence, he is likely to be eligible for parole within a year because of the time he was held in the US awaiting extradition to France. However, Panama is seeking his extradition from France on much more serious crimes, including the murder of political opponents.
Noriega’s lawyers say he wants to return home.
“The rights of all the countries have prevailed except ours,” said Alberto Almanza, who headed a Truth Commission for more than a decade to investigate rights abuses under Noriega.
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