After 20 years in US jail, Noriega faces new trial in France

Panamanian dictator toppled by Bush Sr extradited on money-laundering charge

Manuel Noriega, former Panamanian dictator and convicted drugs trafficker, began an extended stay in France yesterday very different from the gilded Parisian retirement that he once planned.

Noriega, known as "Pineapple Face" – although never in his presence – was extradited from the US to France early yesterday morning after spending two decades in prison in Florida. The once-feared strongman, now said to be 72 or 76 and partially paralysed, has already been convicted in France on charges of money-laundering. He faces a new trial in June.

According to his lawyers in France and Panama, his extradition was illegal, politically motivated and designed to avoid a potentially embarrassing return to Panama. At one time, Noriega was a former CIA informant and a close ally of both the US and France. In 1989, he was toppled by a US invasion after turning his tiny Central American republic into a hub for Colombian drug traffickers.

During a brief public hearing before a remand judge yesterday afternoon, Noriega asked to be "repatriated" under the "prisoner of war" status he was granted in the US. Looking frail and worn, and nothing like the brutal figure who terrorised Panama for eight years, Noriega said: "As a prisoner of war, I have a right to everything guaranteed by the Geneva convention, including the right to go home when my captivity is over."

One of his French lawyers, Yves Leberquier, said that the former dictator was no longer the burly, arrogant figure of his days in power. "I had photos in mind from 20 years ago," Mr Leberquier said. "But he is old and sick ... he had a stroke about four years ago and it has left him a little handicapped on the right-hand side."

After retiring to consider his decision for an hour, the judge placed Noriega in custody. His new home, at least until June, will be the VIP wing of the Santé Prison in southern Paris. Just over a kilometre away, in the elegant, ministerial quarter of the French capital, are three luxury apartments that Noriega bought in the 1980s, allegedly with money from the Medellin cocaine cartel in Colombia.

The apartments – the centre of the French charges against him – were intended as retirement homes for Mr Noriega, his wife Felicidad and their three daughters.

The former president, known to his enemies as "Pineapple Face" because of his pock-marked skin, insists that the 35 million French francs (£3.5m) he spent in France, came from the CIA and from a family bequest. His lawyers say that his French convictions in absentia and the anticipated new charges are null and void. Noriega was a head of state at the time of the alleged offences and therefore is immune under French law, they say.

Whatever the legal rights and wrongs, it is unprecedented for a former head of state to serve 20 years in prison abroad and then be extradited to face similar charges in another country. Noriega has been sentenced, also in his absence, to more than 50 years in jail in Panama for crimes committed during his eight years in power, including the murder of opposition politicians. The Panamana government said yesterday that it "respected" the "sovereign" right of the US to send its former president to France, not Panama, if it so wished.

However, Noriega's Panamanian lawyer, Julio Berrios, insisted that a "secret deal" had been made between Washington, Paris and Panama when Noriega's US sentence expired in 2007 (after reductions for good behaviour). He said that Noriega knew too much about too many people in Panama to be allowed to go home.

The dictator and his family made frequent shopping visits to France when he was in power from 1981 to 1989. He and his wife bought three apartments in 1983-84, in the seventh arrondissement, close to the River Seine, including one on the Quai d'Orsay, near the foreign ministry. Although it is now alleged that the flats were bought with Colombian drug money, the then French government saw no reason to complain. In 1987, Noriega was made a commander of the Légion d'honneur, one of the highest awards that can be bestowed on a foreign leader.

Two years later, Noriega had fallen out with the West and especially with the US. Panama was being used openly as a staging post for cocaine shipments. President George Bush Senior ordered an invasion in December 1989 and Noriega was captured early in 1990.

Some doubt surrounds Noriega's age. According to French court records, he is 76, but Panama insists that he is only 72. As a young man, his country says, he exaggerated his age in order to enter the military academy.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor