The trial of Manuel Noriega on money-laundering charges began in Paris on Monday with lawyers for the ex-Panamanian dictator arguing the proceedings were unlawful and he should be allowed to return home.
Noriega's lawyers also said he had been betrayed by U.S. authorities after operating as a paid CIA agent, and noted that he had been awarded a Legion d'Honneur in the 1980s by then- French President Francois Mitterrand.
"He was abandoned by the Americans, because he was on the CIA's payroll for years, because he carried out a number of highly important missions for them such as the liberation of hostages," defence lawyer Olivier Metzner told reporters at the three-day trial in Paris.
The argument was part of a strategy aimed at showing that the former regional strongman was the victim of political machination by his former allies.
Noriega helped finance the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebel group before being dropped by Washington because he was becoming too powerful, Metzner said.
The 76-year-old former general is facing a ten-year prison sentence in France after being convicted in absentia in 1999 of laundering money from Colombian drug cartels, with which he is thought to have forged close ties.
Born in the slums, Manuel Noriega muscled his way to the top of Panama's military in the early 1980s and maintained a firm grip on power until being ousted by U.S. forces in 1989.
During his rule, Panama became a major distribution platform for cocaine from Colombian drug cartels, with multi-million dollar kickbacks going directly to the then-dictator.
He arrived in Paris in late April after being extradited from the United States where he had been in prison after being convicted in 1992 of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.
Dressed in a blue suit and red tie and with greying hair, Noriega looked hunched as he appeared in court on Monday.
There was also some confusion when he identified himself and gave the wrong date of birth, before correcting himself to say February 11, 1934.
In France, he is suspected of channelling 1.5 million euros ($1.85 million) into French bank accounts at the end of the 1980s, and using illicit funds to acquire three luxury apartments in Paris.
His wife Felicidad, also convicted in absentia in 1999, is charged with holding 3 million euros in French accounts.
Noriega maintains that the money in France is his brother's, part of his wife's personal fortune, or was planted in the bank accounts by the CIA in order to undermine him.
Defence lawyers argued that his extradition to France was unlawful and that as a prisoner of war -- a status granted to him by the United States -- French courts have no jurisdiction to try him.
Panamanian authorities have also issued an extradition request and if returned to his home country Noriega faces a maximum 20-year prison sentence for various crimes.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 29 Haziran 2010, 01:10