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Judge lifts stay on Noriega extradition

  • Story Highlights
  • Noriega's attorneys immediately appeal judge's decision
  • Former Panamanian dictator faces drug money laundering charges in France
  • His current prison sentence ends Sunday
  • Noriega also faces possible prison time in Panama
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From CNN's Rich Phillips and Susan Candiotti
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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A federal judge Friday lifted a stay on former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega's extradition to France, allowing the general to be sent to Paris on Sunday, when his current prison sentence ends.

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Manuel Noriega, shown in a 1989 photo, has served nearly 17 years of his original 40-year sentence.

Noriega's attorneys immediately appealed the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

They've argued that Noriega should be returned to Panama after his release, in accordance with rules governing the treatment of prisoners of war.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler issued a stay in response to an emergency motion by Noriega in which he claimed his constitutional rights as a POW would be violated if he were sent to France to face drug money laundering charges.

But Hoeveler is lifting the stay as of 5 p.m. Friday.

Last month, Hoeveler ruled that the 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."

The former Panamanian strongman was captured in the 1989 U.S. military invasion of Panama and in 1992 was convicted of racketeering for accepting bribes to allow drugs destined for the United States to be shipped through Panama.

He was convicted in absentia in France in 1999 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for depositing drug money in French banks and for purchasing three apartments in France with drug money.

As part of the current extradition agreement, France agreed to give Noriega a new trial.

Denis Simmoneau, deputy spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, said in August that Noriega would be treated as a prisoner of war in France but that he would not officially be given that status.

"He will not benefit from a prisoner status as such," Simmoneau said last month. "He will certainly benefit from the same rights as a prisoner of war but we will not give him the status of prisoner of war because, obviously, he is not a war prisoner. But he will benefit from the same conditions."

Noriega, 69, also faces possible prison time in Panama, where he is accused of kidnapping, extortion and the murder of political opponents.

Though the charges are more serious, if he were convicted of murder in Panama he would probably serve much of his sentence under home detention. Panamanian law provides home detention for anyone 74 years old or older.

The Panamanian constitution also would forbid his extradition to France should he be sent to Panama first.

Noriega has served nearly 17 years of his original 40-year sentence in the United States. The sentence was reduced to 30 years and then was further shortened for good behavior. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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