France to open extradition process for Noriega

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 20, 2011 8:44 AM
France to open extradition process for Noriega

PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Monday it will begin proceedings to extradite former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to Panama, after the United States gave its consent.

Noriega is in prison in France following his conviction for laundering millions of euros into French bank accounts and properties in the 1980s, but Panama wants him extradited so that he can serve sentences in his homeland for assorted crimes.

Noriega, 77, served 20 years in prison in the United States for drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering before being extradited to France in 2010, where he had been sentenced in absentia in 1999 to seven years in jail.

He had been expected to qualify for an early release.

"The consent of the United States opens the administrative phase of the extradition procedure of Manuel Noriega," the French foreign ministry said in an online briefing.

"The government is preparing the extradition decree which will be notified to the concerned party."

It said Noriega would have a month to launch any process to fight the extradition.

Born into poverty, Noriega muscled his way to the top of Panama's military in the early 1980s, became de facto ruler of the Central American country and maintained a firm grip on power until being ousted by U.S. forces in 1989.

During his rule, Panama became a major distribution platform for cocaine from Colombian drug cartels, with multi-million-dollar kickbacks going straight to Noriega.

(Reporting by Vicky Buffery; Writing by Catherine Bremer; Editing by Michael Roddy)