Thursday, September 06, 2007

Noriega prepares for la vie francaise

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is due to be released from his prison cell in Florida on Saturday, but he's leaving the frying pan for an express trip into the fire. An American judge ruled yesterday that the United States will not block an extradition request by the French government, clearing the way for the 69 year old (see footnote) dictator to spend his dotage in a Parisian prison. The former caudillo was tried and convicted in absentia in France on drug trafficking charges, and sentenced to 10 years in jail. The French, for their part, have promised to re-try Noriega upon his arrival in France, thereby extending his detention even further.

Noriega's lawyers have argued, not insensibly, that their client is a prisoner of war, and that he is entitled to return to Panama after the completion of his prison sentence. At first, Panama said they didn't want him back, but quickly changed their tune, saying that they intended to try Noriega themselves for his connections to a series of grisly politically motivated murders, and Panamanians are angry at being overlooked while the United States and France deal with their former military dictator. Barring any further complications, however, it looks like Noriega is still on track to head to France. Bon voyage, Manny?

Note: Noriega himself claims to have been born in 1934, which would make him 73 years old, but his court documents list him as being 69. Which figure is right is anyone's guess.

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