PARIS (AP) - A Paris court on Wednesday convicted former
Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega of laundering drug money in
France in the 1980s and ordered him to spend seven years behind
bars - a sentence that comes on top of his two decades already
spent in a U.S. prison.
The three-judge panel also ordered the seizure of euro2.3 million
($2.89 million) that has long been frozen in Noriega's accounts.
Noriega, who gives his age as 76, was deposed after a 1989 U.S.
invasion and went on to serve 20 years in a Florida prison for drug
trafficking. He was extradited to France in April to stand trial on
accusations related to his assets here.
The prosecution argued that millions of dollars that passed
through Noriega's French accounts during the late 1980s were
kickbacks from the powerful Medellin cocaine cartel.
His lawyers had pressed for an acquittal, saying the trial was
part of a political plot against him and arguing that Noriega's age
and poor health mean he would certainly die behind bars if
Noriega has blood pressure problems and is paralyzed on the left
side following a stroke, his lawyers say. There has long been
confusion about his true date of birth.
In court, Noriega portrayed himself as a foe of drug traffickers
and said the money in his French accounts came from personal and
family businesses. He also said some of it was payments from the
Noriega had long been considered an important CIA asset before
he joined forces with drug traffickers and was implicated in the
death of a political opponent.
His lawyers suggested his U.S. conviction was part of a strategy
to keep Noriega silent after his relationship with the CIA went
In an energetic hour-long monologue in court last week, Noriega
said his problems began when he refused to cooperate in a U.S. plan
aimed at ousting the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua in
the 1980s. He also blamed the U.S. for a "conspiracy" that has
kept him behind bars for 20 years.
France already convicted Noriega and his wife in absentia in
1999 for laundering cocaine profits through three major French
banks and using drug cash to invest in three luxurious Paris
apartments on the Left Bank. He was granted a retrial.
Noriega is being held at the La Sante prison in southern Paris.
His lawyers say the prison is squalid and unfit for a man of his
age and rank. France has refused to grant him prisoner of war
status, which he had in the U.S.
Behind bars in Miami, Noriega had perks including the right to
wear his military uniform and insignia. In France, he is not
allowed to wear his trademark uniform and has showed up in court in
an ordinary suit.