France - Panama

Money-laundering charges a US plot, Noriega tells Paris court

AFP

The Paris trial of former Panamanian President Manuel Noriega ends Wednesday. On Tuesday he claimed tha money-laundering charges against him are part of a conspiracy by the US. Noriega is accused of hiding money obtained through Colombian drug cartels in French banks.

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"I will have the opportunity to produce documents that show that I was a victim of a conspiracy mounted by the United States against me," Noriega told the court Tuesday, on the second day of his trial.

He said that that cash deposits transferred to French banks came from legitimate
businesses, including duty-free sales at the airport in Panama, as well as from payments from the CIA.

His lawyers are arguing that the charges are based on testimony obtained from former drug traffickers who were paid and given protection by the US.

Noriega told the court that the US turned against him in the 1980s, after he spent years as a valued asset of the CIA. He said the tide changed when he refused to allow Panama to become a staging ground for operations against leftists in central America.

"That's when the propaganda started against me after so many years of cooperation with the United States," he said.

Noriega denied having any dealings with Colombian drug cartels, and maintained he had fought the drug trade.

He spent nearly 20 years in prison in the United States before being extradited to France in April, where he had been convicted in absentia. The current trial is due to end Wednesday afternoon, and a verdict could be handed down as early as next month.

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