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Judge: Noriega can be extradited to France

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Judge says Noriega can be extradited to France to serve sentence
  • Ex-Panamanian dictator was to get out of federal prison September 9
  • France wanted him extradited to serve money-laundering sentence
  • Lawyers argued he couldn't legally be sent to third country
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega can be extradited to France to serve a 10-year prison sentence for money laundering charges, a federal judge in Miami ruled Friday.

Manuel Noriega, in a 1989 file photo, leaves his headquarters in Panama City, Panama.

Attorneys for Noriega had argued that his status as a prisoner of war meant he should be sent back to Panama. Noriega also faces possible prison time in the deaths of political opponents there.

"This Court never intended for the proclamation of defendant as a POW to shield him from all future prosecutions for serious crimes he is alleged to have committed," Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler wrote in a 12-page opinion.

"It appears that the extradition proceedings should proceed uninterrupted," Hoeveler wrote.

Hoeveler also noted that Noriega "has not always sought repatriation," and had, at one time, asked to be allowed to go to a third country.

Noriega was captured after the 1989 United States military invasion of Panama. He was convicted in 1992 of racketeering for accepting bribes to allow drugs to be shipped through Panama destined for the United States.

Noriega was scheduled to be released from a federal prison in Miami, Florida, on September 9. He has served 17 years of an original 40-year sentence. The sentence was reduced to 30 years, and further shortened for good behavior.

France wanted Noriega extradited to serve a sentence for laundering drug money through French bank accounts. He was convicted in absentia in France in 1999.

Noriega's attorney, Frank Rubino, had said Noriega hoped to return to Panama to be closer to his family.

His attorneys said that as a POW, Noriega has the right under the Geneva Conventions to be returned to his home country after serving his sentence.

Noriega's attorneys argued in an August 13 hearing that the former general faces even more serious charges in Panama, where he is accused of murder, kidnapping and extortion.

Even if Noriega were convicted of murder, he would most likely serve out his sentence under home detention. Panamanian law mandates home detention for anyone age 74 or older. According to court documents, Noriega is 69, but other sources give his age as 73.

The Panamanian constitution would also forbid him from being extradited to France.

U.S. Justice Department attorneys argued that France was within its right to request extradition of the former dictator.

However, Noriega's lawyers said the military invasion that led to Noriega's arrest was a conflict between Panama and the United States. They argued France was not a party to that conflict and has no standing to seek Noriega's extradition.

A Department of Justice spokesman said the matter remains pending and declined to comment. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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