MIAMI — Federal prosecutors yesterday dismissed as a charade the bid by former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to avoid extradition to France on money-laundering charges.
“Why would the draftees of the Geneva Convention want to … prevent the extradition of a war criminal?” said U.S. Attorney Sean Cronin, responding in court to Noriega”s claim that he is a war prisoner entitled to be returned to his Panamanian homeland.
Mr. Cronin told a federal judge that the convicted drug smuggler should go to France, which accuses him of spending about $3.15 million on high-priced Paris real estate using money stolen from Panamanian coffers, before being sent to Panama because the Central American nation by law does not extradite its nationals.
Noriega, 72, appeared in court wearing his khaki military garb replete with epaulets and used a headset to follow a Spanish translation. He is scheduled to be released from a Miami prison next month.
Noriega”s attorney said the general should be sent home to face two murder charges and that his extradition to France would violate the Geneva Conventions.
“This court is the only venue where tyranny can stop,” said Noriega attorney Jon May.
Mr. May made sweeping references to the Magna Carta, the origins of habeas corpus and the rights under the Geneva Conventions of prisoners of war to be returned to their countries of origin.
U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler said he will render a decision next week.
Mr. May said the French extradition request was trumped up by U.S., French and Panamanian officials to prevent their client from being returned to Panama. France tried Noriega in absentia in 1999 on money-laundering charges.
“[Federal prosecutors] are all good people, but they work for people who are not,” said Mr. May, pointing at the U.S. district attorneys.
Noriega was captured by U.S. forces during the 1989 invasion ordered by President Bush, citing the general”s links to drug trafficking.
It was discovered later that Noriega had cooperated with the CIA for many years, acting as a point man on Latin American issues for the United States and serving as a mediator of sorts between Washington and Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
In 1992, Noriega was convicted of colluding with the Colombian Medellin drug cartel by allowing shipments of cocaine to transit through Panama on their way to the United States. His 30-year sentence has been reduced for good behavior.
Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.