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Updated: April 27, 2010 14:10 IST

Ex-Panamanian leader Noriega arrives in France for trial

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Former Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. File photo: AP.
Former Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. File photo: AP.

Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega arrived early Tuesday in France after his extradition from the United States.

Noriega arrived on an Air France plane at Charles de Gaulle airport and was to be taken before an arraigning judge to face French charges of money laundering.

In 1999, Noriega was convicted in absentia by a French court of laundering more than 3 million dollars made on drug deals, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. French authorities have said Noriega would get a new trial if he’s extradited.

Noriega, who is in his 70s, had spent 21 years in a US federal prison after being convicted on drug charges. He was flown out of the United States after US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed the extradition order.

One of his French lawyers, Yves Leberquier, told France Info radio that he would first file a motion saying that France was juridically incompetent to judge Noriega. He also said the defence would claim that the statute of limitations had expired on the charges.

Finally, Mr. Leberquier said Noriega would insist on maintaining his status of prisoner of war, which his American judge had conferred on him. This status allowed him privileges in jail. French jails are notorious for their inhumane conditions.

Noriega was captured in 1989 after an invasion of Panama by US military forces.

He took refuge in the Vatican Embassy and was ultimately forced to leave after US soldiers played heavy metal music in what they said was an attempt to prevent electronic eavesdropping on negotiations within the building.

Noriega finally surrendered on January 3, 1990, and was brought to the United States for trial.

He was convicted in 1992 on the charges, and sentenced first to 40 years in prison, which were reduced to 30 years, the US Justice Department said on its website.

The sentence was later shortened again, and he was slated for release from prison in September 2007, only to face further detention because both Panama and France had requested his extradition.

Panama wants him to face charges in the murders of political opponents during his 1983—1989 reign.

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