WASHINGTON – The U.S. extradited former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to France on Monday, clearing the way for him to stand trial there on money laundering charges.
The former strongman, who had been held in a federal prison just outside Miami, was placed on an overnight Air France flight to Paris, according to a Justice Department official who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to comment on the case.
Yves Leberquier, one of Noriega’s lawyers, confirmed his client was headed to France. He said Noriega will be turned over to French prosecutors today and later taken before a judge who will determine whether he should remain in custody pending further action.
Earlier Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed a so-called surrender warrant for Noriega after a federal judge in Miami lifted a stay blocking the extradition last month, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
Noriega was ousted as Panama’s leader and put on trial following a 1989 U.S. military invasion ordered by President George H.W. Bush. Noriega was brought to Miami and was convicted of drug racketeering and related charges in 1992. France requested his extradition shortly before his U.S. drug trafficking sentence ended Sept. 9, 2007.
The French claim Noriega laundered some $3 million in drug proceeds by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris.