Noriega 'happy to be going home'
Former military strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega has flown home to Panama to be punished once again for crimes he committed during a career that saw him transformed from a close Cold War ally of Washington to the vilified target of a US invasion.
Noriega left Orly airport, south of Paris, on a flight of Spain's Iberia airlines, delivered directly to the aircraft by a four-car convoy and motorcycles that escorted him from the French capital's La Sante prison.
The French Justice Ministry, in a one-line statement, said France turned Noriega over to Panamanian officials in accordance with extradition proceedings.
Noriega's return comes after more than 20 years in US and French prisons for drug trafficking and money laundering. Panama convicted him during his captivity overseas for killing two political opponents in the 1980s.
He was sentenced to 20 years in each case, and Panamanian officials say he will be sent straight to prison when he lands. The ex-general, whose pockmarked face earned him the nickname "Pineapple Face," could eventually leave prison under a law allowing prisoners over 70 to serve out their time under house arrest.
A doctor was reported to be among the team of Panamanian officials escorting the 77-year-old ex-dictator back to Panama.
"He was very impatient, very happy. He's going home," one of his French lawyers, Antonin Levy, said.
Noriega began working with US intelligence when he was a student at a military academy in Peru, said Everett Ellis Briggs, the United States ambassador to Panama from 1982 to 1986.
As he rose in the Panamanian military during the 1970s and 1980s, Noriega cooperated closely with the CIA, helping the US combat leftist movements in Latin America by providing information and logistical help. He also acted as a back channel for US communications with unfriendly governments such as Cuba's.
But Noriega was playing a double game. He also began working with Colombia's Medellin drug cartel, and made millions moving cocaine to the United States.