Ex-Panama dictator Manuel Noriega arrives in France

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The Independent Online

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega arrived in Paris from the United States today after being extradited to France, where he has been convicted on money laundering charges.

Noriega, 76, a former army general, arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport shortly before 8am after being taken from his jail cell and put on board an Air France flight from Miami.

The one-time CIA informant was convicted in absentia in France of laundering cocaine profits through French banks and using the money to buy three luxury apartments. However, he can seek a new trial in France.

Noriega was captured in Panama in January 1990, two weeks after US troops invaded the country in the largest American military intervention at the time since the Vietnam War.

Noriega, who finished his US prison sentence for drug trafficking two years ago, had remained in a Florida prison while fighting his extradition to France. His attorneys argue that as a prisoner of war he must be sent back to Panama.

"If the rule of law is applied there should not be a trial in France because of the judicial immunity of a former head of state," Yves Leberquier, one of Noriega's French lawyers, told France Info radio.

Noriega had challenged his extradition to the US Supreme Court, but the highest court let stand a ruling by a federal appeals court that the US government can legally send him to France without violating his rights as a prisoner of war.

The US appeals court had rejected Noriega's claim that his extradition would violate his rights under the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of prisoners of war.

The US government has supported France's extradition request and said the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Noriega's case.