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Ex-Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega extradited to France

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Noriega extradited to France
  • NEW: Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega arrives in France
  • Noriega will face charges that he laundered drug money
  • He served two decades in a U.S. prison for drug trafficking
  • Noriega was convicted in 1992, three years after arrest during U.S. invasion

(CNN) -- Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega arrived Tuesday morning in France -- where he was extradited to stand trial on charges that he laundered drug money.

Noriega arrived in Paris aboard an Air France commercial flight from Miami, Florida.

US. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a surrender warrant Monday, clearing the way for Noriega's extradition after he spent more than 20 years in a U.S. federal prison.

The move came as a shock to the Miami attorneys who have defended Noriega for more than 20 years.

Video: Noriega boards flight to France
Timeline: Manuel Noriega
  • Manuel Noriega
  • Extradition
  • France
  • Panama

"I would have hoped, if an order was signed, that the State Department would have the courtesy to respond to his lawyers and tell them an order was signed," said Frank Rubino, Noriega's criminal defense attorney.

"I'm in total shock they did this without the common courtesy of a phone call. They owe us, as his lawyers, to keep us informed."

For the past two and a half years, Noriega and his attorneys had argued that the United States was violating the Geneva Convention by not sending him back to Panama, where he was seized by U.S. troops after the United States invaded Panama in 1989.

U.S. federal courts ruled against him.

His last shot had been an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected hearing his case in January.

U.S. forces removed the ex-dictator from office during Operation Nifty Package, the 1989 invasion of Panama. Noriega had fled his offices and tried to seek sanctuary in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City.

U.S. troops set up large speakers around the compound, blaring music at all hours, a psychological ploy to rattle the general.

He eventually surrendered on January 3, 1990, and was quickly escorted to the United States for civilian trial.

After his drug conviction, Noriega was given POW status. His federal sentence, originally for 30 years, ended in September 2007 after time off for good behavior.

In Panama, Noriega is wanted for the murder of a political rival.

Panama has requested his extradition, but the U.S. is honoring France's extradition request instead.

France has already convicted Noriega in absentia for money laundering but has promised him a new trial.

While in U.S. custody, Noriega suffered from prostate cancer and had a stroke.

Last month, in an exclusive interview with CNN, Noriega's grandson Jean-Manuel Beauchamp said that he had grown to admire his grandfather. He was only 4 months old when the U.S. invaded Panama.

"When I was a kid, I didn't grow up knowing he was in prison. I thought he was in school," Beauchamp said.

"I've spent quality time with him, but not private time," he said, alluding to prison security and the monitoring of conversations. "He's the smartest man I know. He's so friendly, outgoing, knowledgeable. He's always looking to teach or give advice."

But the U.S. government has portrayed Noriega as the ultimate crooked cop -- a man who was paid millions by the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia to protect cocaine and money shipments.

Panamanians remember him as a cruel dictator who was charged with murder and convicted in absentia.

Panama has also said he would get a new trial.

In the meantime, Beauchamp says that his grandfather reads and prays a lot, and still has a soldier's mentality.

"He's ready for anything. He's probably developed strategies, in his own mind, to emotionally prepare. He's been packed for two and a half years, waiting," he said.

But, he added, "The U.S. should be escorting him back to Panama, from where they took him."