France – Panama

Noriega on trial in Paris for money-laundering

Reuters

Manuel Noriega is to appear in a Paris court Monday afternoon for his trial, in which he is accused of laundering money from a Colombian cocaine cartel in the 1980s through French banks. The former Panamanian dictator was extradited to France in April, after finishing a 20-year prison sentence in the US for drug racketeering and money laundering.

Advertising

The three-day court proceeding will essentially be a re-trial of the one in 1999 in which Noriega and his wife, Felicidad Sieiro de Noriega, were convicted in absentia for laundering 15 million francs (2.3 million euros) in French banks and in cash investments in Paris real estate.

They were accused of hiding money acquired from helping Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel transport cocaine through Panama to the US.

France agreed on the new trial if he appeared in person, after extradition. He was convicted in absentia of ten years in prison and was fined. He faces the same prison term if he is he convicted after this week’s trial.

Noriega’s defence is that he fought against drug trafficking, and that the money came from elsewhere, including from his brother, his wife and payments from the CIA. He was considered a valued asset by the CIA for years, before he started working with drug traffickers.

Panama is also seeking extradition, in order to try him for the alleged torture and deaths of political opponents. His wife lives in Panama and faces no charges there.

Since he arrived in France, Noriega has been in the La Sante prison in southern Paris. In the United States he was declared a prisoner of war, and was provided with separate quarters in prison and the right to wear his military uniform. France is not treating him as a POW.

His lawyers have objected to this, and have also complained that the Paris prison where he is being held is too dirty and run-down, and have brought complaints to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning