Noriega Nears French Prison; Extradition on Laundering Charges OK'd

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Byline: Carmen Gentile, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega appears one step closer to facing money-laundering charges and significant jail time in France after his lengthy and storied stay in a U.S. prison.

Last week in a Miami court, Magistrate Judge William Turnoff ruled that Noriega, 73, could be extradited to France, where if convicted, he'd serve up to one decade behind bars.

The ex-Panamanian strongman, who was forcibly removed from power by an invading U.S. force, has served 15 years in a federal corrections institution on drug-trafficking charges. Adding 10 years would effectively condemn the aged Noriega to a death sentence.

But Noriega's fate isn't sealed yet. The final decision as to whether the general will face justice in France is up to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, according to international law analysts. And with scant time until his sentence expires next Sunday, Noriega's lawyers appear determined not to give up the fight.

"I can assure this court and everyone else you haven't heard the end of this," said defense attorney Frank Rubino. He told The Washington Times that he would file an appeal shortly after Labor Day.

Mr. Rubino and Noriega co-counsel Jon May have argued that the general's extradition to France would be a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions, and they accused federal prosecutors of violating the international treaty and "fundamentally altering the Constitution." They've petitioned for Noriega to be returned to Panama, where he faces corruption and murder charges. …