A US court has agreed to extradite former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to France, where he faces money laundering charges. Noriega finished serving a 17-year prison term in the US on related charges in September 2007.
AFP - A US federal appeals court has given the green light for Panama's former strongman Manuel Noriega to be extradited to France where he faces money laundering charges.
Noriega, 75, completed in September a 17-year US prison term on drug charges but has remained in US custody while appealing his extradition to France, claiming he is a prisoner of war.
The former army general held sway in Panama from 1984 until he surrendered on January 3, 1990 to US troops who had invaded the country three weeks earlier.
A US Cold War ally and one-time CIA informant whose involvement with drug trafficking eventually became an embarrassment for Washington, Noriega was then flown on a military plane to Miami, where he was tried on charges of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.
Noriega's lawyers have sought to block his extradition and have him returned to Panama, arguing that he should be repatriated under the international Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.
However on Wednesday the three-judge panel for the US Court of Appeals 11th Circuit in Atlanta decided that the extradition could proceed.
"We affirm and hold that par. 5 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006... precludes Noriega from invoking the Geneva Convention as a source of rights in a habeas corpus proceeding and therefore deny Noriega's habeas petition.
"We also conclude that extradition would not violate this Convention," the ruling said.
And "Noriega has failed to assert any applicable law which would prevent his extradition to France under the (US) extradition treaty" with Paris, the judges added.
Julio Berrio, one of his lawyers in Panama, said the former strongman's US attorneys would appeal the Atlanta ruling.
Berrio told the La Prensa daily that Noriega "is calm, and firm in his decision to return home."
Last year a US federal judge had blocked Noriega's extradition to France, saying he had not exhausted all possible appeals.
Judge Paul Huck in Miami said on January 31, 2008 that the Panamanian former strongman was entitled to have his case heard by an appeals court and possibly even before the US Supreme Court.
"It appears that these are legal issues on which no other federal court has ruled, directly or indirectly," Huck said at the time, ordering that extradition procedures remain suspended.
A French court sentenced Noriega to 10 years in prison in 1999 after his conviction in absentia on various charges, but authorities say he would be given a new trial on allegations he deposited 3.15 million dollars in cocaine trafficking profits in French bank accounts in the 1980s.
The Atlanta judges added that "Noriega will have the opportunity to challenge this (French) conviction and seek a new trial upon his surrender to France."
Panamanian Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis said last year that he would insist on having Noriega sent back home, where he was convicted in absentia of corruption and murder.
The Panamanian government however has not yet launched an extradition procedure.
Date created : 2009-04-09