France prepares to extradite Manuel Noriega

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The Independent Online

France will begin proceedings to extradite the former dictator Manuel Noriega to Panama, after the United States gave its consent.

Noriega is in prison in France after being convicted of 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 in 1999 he had been sentenced in absentia to seven years in jail. He had been expected to qualify for 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."

Noriega has a month to launch any process to fight the extradition.

Born into poverty, Noriega fought his way to the top of Panama's military in the early 1980s, and was the country's de facto ruler until he was ousted by US forces in 1989. During his rule, Panama was a major distribution platform for cocaine from Colombian drug cartels, with multimillion-dollar kickbacks going straight to Noriega.