Page last updated at 19:04 GMT, Tuesday, 27 April 2010 20:04 UK

Noriega to be held in French custody until trial


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

Former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega is to be held in French custody until his trial, a judge has ruled.

The 76-year old was extradited from the US early on Tuesday and faces 10 years in jail for money laundering.

His lawyers had argued that French courts could not try him because he is immune from prosecution as a former head of state.

He was convicted on similar charges in France in his absence in 1999 but will face a new trial.

Noriega, who ruled Panama between 1981 and 1989, has spent more than 20 years in prison in the US on drugs charges.

He was flown from Miami to Paris after US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton signed a "surrender warrant" on Monday.


His lawyers had called for his immediate release saying France did not have the jurisdiction to try him, citing his immunity as state leader and his status as a former prisoner-of-war.

But the judge rejected their challenge, ruling that he should be held in Sante prison in Paris until a re-trial.

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

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

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

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, but his appeal was rejected.

Noriega's lawyer in Miami, Frank Rubino, said he was not 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.

He 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".

Noriega became the de facto president 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.

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