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Noriega arrives in France to face money-laundering charges

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Reuters

Panama's former military dictator Manuel Noriega arrived in France early Tuesday morning, after being extradited by the United States to answer money-laundering charges. Noriega, 74, was put aboard a flight from Miami on Monday evening, shortly after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed an extradition order in Washington.


The plane touched down just before 8am at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and Noriega was taken directly to a Paris courthouse to hear the charges read against him.

The flight ended Noriega's long legal battle to avoid extradition to France, where he faces charges of laundering drug money.

But even before he had landed, the legal wrangling resumed, with Noriega's lawyer in Paris vowing to challenge the jurisdiction of French courts.

According to his French lawyer, Yves Leberquier, the extradition violates Noriega's rights as a prisoner of war, a status conferred on him by the United States after his capture in 1990. Noriega should furthermore benefit from immunity as a former head of state, Leberquier argues.

Meanwhile Panama's Foreign Minister Juan Carlos Varela said his government
respected the US decision, but would continue pursuing "diplomatic and legal channels to return Mr Noriega to his country to face the sentences imposed by Panamanian courts".

Noriega has three convictions for human rights violations in Panama.

His Panamanian lawyer Luis Berrio says the extradition to France violages two treaties, one Panamanian, and one between France and the US.

"The two say it's the oldest extradition order that must prevail. But the Panamanian , American and French authorities made an agreement so that General Noriega will spend his last days in France," Berrio told RFI.

France sentenced Noriega in absentia in 1999 to ten years in prison but now wants to try him on money-laundering charges.

France has agreed to hold a new trial, which could begin within two months. Noriega will be remanded in custody in the meantime.

Berrio says Noriega has already been tried for these crimes in the US, and the treaties say someone cannot be judged twice for the same crime.

"That is what the the French lawyer defending Noriega in France will argue," he said.

Noriega has spent the past 17 years in a Miami prison after being deposed in 1989 when the US sent troops into Panama to arrest him.

The US Supreme Court rejected Noriega's bid to halt the extradition in March, closing the last legal avenue for the former strongman to escape French justice.