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French court approves Noriega extradition

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-11-23

A Paris appeals court approved the extradition of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega on Wednesday, who is serving time in France for money laundering. He has been convicted in absentia for corruption and murder in Panama.

AFP - A French appeals court ruled Wednesday that former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega could be extradited to his homeland to serve time for crimes committed during his iron-fisted rule in the 1980s.

Noriega, a former US ally who ruled Panama from 1983 until his overthrow in a US invasion in 1989, spent more than 20 years in a US jail before being extradited in 2010 to France where he was convicted of money laundering.

"The court acknowledges Manuel Antonio Noriega's consent to being handed over to the Panamanian authorities," the court said.

Wednesday's ruling comes after the United States agreed to a second Panamanian extradition request. US approval is required because US authorities sent Noriega to France in April 2010 while he was serving time in a Miami jail.

"I want to return to Panama without hatred or resentment," Noriega told the court in Spanish.

"I want to go back to Panama to prove my innocence in these procedures that were carried out in my absence and without legal assistance."

One of Noriega's lawyers said last week that the fallen leader should be home for Christmas and might not even go to prison because of the 77-year-old's alleged ill health.

A longtime intelligence chief who became the country's military ruler in 1983, Noriega spent 21 years in a Miami prison on drug charges after his overthrow, and then was extradited to France, where he was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of laundering money for the Medellin drug cartel.

Panama wants him extradited from France to serve three 20-year sentences for the murders of three opponents -- Hugo Spadafora, a doctor and former deputy health minister, in 1985; Captain Moises Giroldi in 1989; and union activist Heliodoro Portugal in 1970.

Panamanian authorities also want to judge Noriega -- nicknamed "pineapple face" for his pockmarked skin -- for other crimes committed during under his regime.

The court's decision must now in theory be followed by a decree signed by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, although a judicial source said Noriega could return to Panama immediately as Fillon already signed such an order for a first extradition request in July.

Noriega lawyer Olivier Metzner said the timing of the extradition now depends on the Panamanian authorities.

"All the technical problems have been resolved," Metzner told journalists outside the court. "Panama simply has to send police to the airport to take charge of Mr Noriega and take him away."

"If they want to do this very quickly, they can send a military plane tomorrow and as early as tomorrow evening he can be in Panama City."

Panama's consul in Paris, Aristides Gomez de Leon, said his country would do what was necessary to return Noriega to Panama.

"I think that he will be back before the end of December," he said.

Date created : 2011-11-23


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