Manuel Noriega sent to jail by French judge

Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator extradited from the United States to France, is to be detained in one of Paris’s most famous prisons after a judge ruled that he could not be released before a fresh trial on money-laundering charges.

The erstwhile dictator, who arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport on a flight from Miami on Tuesday, was ordered to a cell in La Santé jail by a French judge who rejected defence lawyers’ pleas for their client to be placed under house arrest.

Instead, the former leader, who was given preferential treatment as a prisoner of war during his 21 years in a Miami jail, was told he would be sent to the prison in southern Paris where former inmates include disgraced banker Jérôme Kerviel. Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the Venezuelan terrorist better known as Carlos the Jackal, is currently serving a life sentence there.

Noriega’s lawyers, who had argued that their elderly client deserved to be let out under strict judicial supervision, said immediately they were appealing against the ruling. They said Noriega should be treated as a prisoner of war by the French authorities, adding that conditions in the jail were not “worthy” of such an inmate.

They also said that Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1983 until 1989, when he was toppled by the Americans, should be protected from prosecution because he was a head of state during the period that he is alleged to have carried out his crimes.

Very weak
Noriega pleaded directly with the judge to be sent back to Panama, despite the fact that further charges await him there. “As a prisoner of war I have the right to everything provided for by the Geneva convention, such as repatriation at the end of captivity,” he said.

One of his lawyers, Olivier Metzner, said he had appeared “very weak” during his hearing, at which the judge read out the considerable charge sheet. Noriega, who Metzner said is 76, is understood to have suffered a mild stroke four years ago, which brought about partial paralysis.

The former leader, whose reduced US sentence for drug-trafficking ended in 2007, was convicted of money-laundering in absentia by a French court in 1999 and ordered to serve 10 years in prison and to pay a fine of several million euros.

Noriega, who was awarded the Legion of Honour in 1987, was found to have laundered 35-million francs of drug profits in dozens of French bank accounts and invested the money in an array of luxurious flats in the capital.

The French Ministry of Justice has said a retrial could begin within two months. Panama’s Foreign Minister, Juan Carlos Varela, said his government would try to have Noriega repatriated so he could “serve the sentences handed down by Panamanian courts”. —

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