Noriega Will Be Extradited to France, His Lawyer Says

Former Panamanian strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno will extradited to France after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal against the extradition, his lawyer said, though the final say on the matter belongs to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Noriega “has exhausted all his legal options. He has to go to France,” defense attorney Frank A. Rubino told Efe. “It could be in a week or a month. I don’t know.”

The general, who remains inside a federal prison in Miami, had asked the high court to find that as a prisoner of war, he was entitled to return to the República de Panamá after serving a reduced 17-year sentence in the United States for drug trafficking and money laundering.

A U.S. federal judge found in 1992 that Noriega had POW status by virtue of his having been captured during the December 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama.

Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983-1989, was due to be released from prison in September 2007, but has remained in custody pending the outcome of France’s request for his extradition.

As his scheduled release drew near, Paris asked the United States to extradite Noriega, who was sentenced in 1999 to 10 years in prison by a French court that convicted him in absentia on charges of laundering some $3.1 million in drug money through the purchase of an apartment.

“I have no idea how they can know where the money came from,” Rubino said Monday. “We’re extremely discouraged by the (Supreme Court) ruling.”

France has promised to give the Panamanian a new trial if he is extradited.

Noriega had hoped to return to Panama upon his release, despite the two prison sentences for murder he faces in his homeland, where, as in other Latin American countries, elderly convicts are often permitted to serve their time under house arrest.

The former dictator’s birth year is listed in various sources as 1934, 1937 or 1939.

The Supreme Court did not comment in its decision declining to accept the appeal, but conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia said they were against the decision, adding that the case should have been heard as a way of resolving the legality of extraditing a POW. EFE

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