Page last updated at 09:26 GMT, Thursday, 9 April 2009 10:26 UK

Noriega 'can be sent to France'

Manuel Noriega, pictured in 1996
Manuel Noriega has remained in US custody after serving 17 years

A US federal appeals court says Panama's ex-leader, Manuel Noriega, can be extradited to France.

The US convicted Noriega of laundering illicit drugs money in 1990 and he was sentenced to 30 years, later reduced to 17 years on grounds of good behaviour.

France convicted him in his absence in 1999 for laundering money through French banks, though it says he will be granted a new trial.

His lawyers had argued international law required he be returned to Panama.

As a former prisoner of war following the US invasion of Panama in 1989, they said, the Geneva Conventions precluded his extradition to a third country.

He also faces a 20-year sentence at home imposed by a Panamanian court in his absence for ordering the murder in 1985 of Hugo Spadafora, a prominent opponent.

There had been reports, denied by Panama, of a deal with the US allowing Noriega to go to France, said to be partly aimed at avoiding political problems in the Central American country.

Noriega, who is in his 70s, led Panama from 1983 to 1989 and was a key American ally in the region before being captured by invading US forces.

Lawyers for Noriega indicated an appeal against the federal court's ruling was likely.

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