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Noriega to be extradited to France for prison term

July 18, 2007|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega will be extradited to France to serve a 10-year sentence for money laundering upon his release from prison in Florida this fall, according to Justice Department papers filed in court Tuesday.

A French court convicted and sentenced Noriega in absentia in 1999. He was charged with unlawfully depositing millions in drug money in several French bank accounts and laundering the cash partly by purchasing three Paris apartments.

In the decision to send Noriega, 69, to France, the United States turned down Panama's request that he be returned to face murder charges in connection with his alleged oppression of political opponents, said Foreign Minister Samuel Lewis Navarro.

Some analysts have said that Noriega still enjoys some support and that his return to Panama to face trial could cause political problems for President Martin Torrijos.

Accused of smuggling cocaine and racketeering in association with Colombia's Medellin drug cartel, Noriega was deposed by the U.S. invasion of Panama in December 1989.

He surrendered the next month and was convicted by a U.S. District Court jury in Miami in 1992 on eight drug trafficking and racketeering counts. He was alleged to have accepted millions of dollars in payoffs from the Medellin cartel to ease passage of U.S.-bound drugs through Panama.

Witnesses against Noriega included his personal pilot, who flew to and from Colombia, and convicted Colombian drug lord Carlos Lehder, who was extradited from Colombia to the United States in 1987. Noriega was alleged to have received $500,000 in cash for each flight he green-lighted.

Noriega was sentenced to 40 years in prison. After more than 17 years in U.S. custody, he will be released in early September, with time off for good behavior.

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