Panama's ex-dictator to stay in prison pending trial in France

Former Panamanian dictator Noriega will have stay in prison pending a possible re-trial, a judge ruled.

Panama's ex-dictator to stay in prison pending trial in France

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, who is facing 10 years jail time in France for money laundering, will have stay in prison pending a possible re-trial, a judge ruled on Tuesday.

Lawyers for Noriega, who was extradited from the United States overnight, had called for his immediate release, citing his immunity as a former head of state, his age and his statute as a prisoner of war.

Noriega, 76, will be held in the Sante prison in Paris, the judge ordered.

The one-time, self-declared "Maximum Leader" of Panama had been convicted of taking millions of dollars in bribes to help the Medellin cartel smuggle cocaine into the United States.

A former CIA informant, Noriega was convicted in absentia in France of laundering cocaine profits through French banks and using the money to buy three luxury apartments here.

Noriega, who insisted he was innocent and had helped U.S. intelligence and anti-drug efforts, was seen briefly at Miami airport, stepping out of an SUV and shuffling towards the plane. The former general, known for his burly figure and pockmarked face that earned him the nickname of "Pineapple Face", was whisked out of Charles de Gaulle airport on arrival and to the Justice Court, where he was placed under arrest.

"He is old and sick ... he had a stroke about four years ago and it has left him a little handicapped on the right hand side," Yves Leberquier, one of Noriega's French lawyers said.

Noriega could face a maximum 10 year sentence and can seek a new trial in France, but his lawyers are demanding the case be dropped and their client freed.

They argue that as a classified prisoner of war and former head of state he must be sent back to Panama and that French courts have no jurisdiction to try him.

"We will do everything to show his place is not in France and that this man must return to his country, which is what Panama requests," Oliver Metzner, another of his lawyers said.

Another extradition? 

Panama's ambassador to France, Henry Faarup, told Reuters his country would seek Noriega's extradition where he faced 20 years imprisonment for various crimes.

"Since he is 76 years old, there is a law that after 70 years you cannot be put in jail, but only under house arrest. Maybe that's what he wants," Faarup said, adding he believed France would treat the former general as a prisoner of war.

A court will rule on Tuesday whether Noreiga will have to stay in a French prison before a scheduled May 12 hearing.

French justice ministry spokesman Guillaume Didier said the Panamanian could face trial within two months.

Noriega was once an ally of the United States and was trained at the U.S. Army's School of the Americas before they fell out and he became one of Washington's most vilified foes at a time when Central America was in turmoil.

After years of protests in Panama that he ruthlessly crushed, U.S. troops invaded in December 1989 in their largest military intervention at the time since the Vietnam War.

He surrendered in January 1990 after holing up in the Vatican Embassy, unable to withstand an assault of loud rock music that Americans blasted at the mission night and day.

Noriega finished his U.S. sentence for drug trafficking two years ago but had remained in a Florida prison while fighting in vain against extradition to France.

With its 100-bank financial centre, Panama was used to launder bales of drug cash through banks and as a centre for the processing and transshipment of cocaine. Multi-million dollar kickbacks went directly to Noriega.

In February 1988, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had Noriega indicted on federal drugs charges relating to cocaine trafficking and money laundering. The U.S. Congress imposed economic sanctions to press him to leave power.

U.S. President George Bush ordered the invasion, dubbed "Operation Just Cause" with the aim of capturing Noriega.

Reuters

Last Mod: 27 Nisan 2010, 20:48
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