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Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 18:04 UK

Panama's Manuel Noriega 'to fight charges' in France

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Noriega's lawyer, Frank Rubino, said he was shocked the US government had not told him about the extradition

Former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega has appeared before French prosecutors after his US extradition and will fight charges against him, his lawyers say.

Noriega will argue French courts do not have jurisdiction to try him as he is immune from prosecution and because the statute of limitations has expired.

He was convicted in France in his absence in 1999 for money laundering but will face a new trial.

He spent more than 20 years in jail in the US on drugs charges.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday signed a "surrender warrant" and Noriega was taken to Miami airport and handed to French prison officials on an Air France plane.

'Incompetent'

Noriega's plane arrived in Paris shortly before 0800 local time (0600 GMT).

Noriega, who is in his mid-70s, was taken to appear before prosecutors and notified of the international arrest warrant against him.

Panama is terrified that he'll return, even though all he would do is sit on his porch and play with his grandchildren. He knows where the skeletons are buried
Frank Rubino, Noriega lawyer

One of Noriega's French lawyers, Olivier Metzner, said after the closed-door hearing that his client appeared "much weakened" and was "receiving medical treatment".

Noriega was then driven away in an armoured car. Later, a judge ruled that he should be held in custody ahead of his trial.

A spokesman for the French justice ministry, Guillaume Didier, said that Noriega could go on trial within two months.

However another Noriega lawyer in France, Yves Leberquier, signalled a tough legal battle ahead.

WHO IS MANUEL NORIEGA?
Manuel Noriega in 1990
Became de facto ruler of Panama in 1983 as head of defence forces
Formerly one of Washington's top allies in Latin America
US later accused him of drug-trafficking and election-rigging
Surrendered to invading US troops in 1990 and was flown to the US
Also faces a 20-year sentence at home imposed by Panama court

He said Noriega would challenge French jurisdiction on the grounds of his immunity from prosecution as a former head of state and because the statute of limitations had expired.

Mr Leberquier also said there were question marks about Noriega's status as a prisoner-of-war.

A Miami judge declared Noriega a POW after the 1992 drugs sentencing, allowing him prison privileges that included the ability to wear his military uniform and insignia.

Mr Leberquier said the French system could not accommodate such a status.

He told the Associated Press news agency: "We're not here to eventually make a moral judgment, we've got legal rules that have to be applied and respected.

"For justice to be served, the judiciary must acknowledge it is incompetent to put him on trial."

Noriega's original French sentence of 10 years was for laundering $3m in drug trafficking proceeds by buying luxury apartments in Paris.

However, part of the extradition process with the US included an agreement that Noriega would be given a new trial.

Noriega had wanted to be sent back to Panama after finishing his 17-year jail sentence in 2007.

Yves Leberquier (l) and Olivier Metzner in Paris, 27 April
Yves Leberquier (l) and Olivier Metzner said their client would fight on

But in February the US Supreme Court rejected his final appeal against extradition to France.

Panama's government said it respected the "sovereign decision" but insisted it would seek his return to serve outstanding prison sentences there.

Noriega's lawyer in Miami, Frank Rubino, said he had not been notified of the extradition and had only learned of it from the media.

"Usually the government... does things in a more professional manner and respects common courtesy and we're shocked that they didn't," he said.

"I'm surprised that they didn't put a black hood over his head and drag him out in the middle of the night," he added.

Mr Rubino said Panama was "terrified" that Noriega would return "even though all he would do is sit on his porch and play with his grandchildren. He knows where the skeletons are buried".

Invasion

Noriega became de facto ruler of Panama in 1983 and was supported by the US until 1987. But in 1988 he was indicted in the US for drug trafficking.

The US invaded following the death of a US marine in Panama City and Noriega surrendered on 3 January 1990.

In 1992, he was convicted in Miami of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. He was handed a 40-year prison sentence, later reduced to 30 years, and then 17 years, for good behaviour.



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SEE ALSO
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Q&A: Noriega extradition
27 Apr 10 |  Americas
US extradites Noriega to France
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US rules for Noriega extradition
25 Jan 10 |  Americas
Noriega 'can be sent to France'
09 Apr 09 |  Americas
Country profile: Panama
14 Sep 12 |  Country profiles

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Telegraph Noriega claims 'prisoner of war' status - 16 hrs ago
Al Jazeera French judge rules against Noriega - 19 hrs ago
Mail Online UK Ex Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega appears before French court on money laundering charges - 23 hrs ago
Daily Express Noriega to face trial in France - 30 hrs ago
Times of India US extradites Noriega to France - 32 hrs ago


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