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Panama bids to prosecute Noriega


Panama has requested France extradite Manuel Noriega (AP)

Panama has requested France extradite Manuel Noriega (AP)

Panama has requested France extradite Manuel Noriega (AP)

Panama has requested France extradite former dictator Manuel Noriega, bringing hope to those who have demanded for two decades that he face justice at home for alleged tortures and killings of their relatives.

Authorities in France, where Noriega faces money-laundering charges, are reviewing the request, said Vladimir Franco, judicial affairs chief with Panama's exterior relations ministry.

Noriega has already been sentenced to 60 years in prison in Panama after he was convicted in absentia of embezzlement, corruption and murdering opponents during his eight-year rule.

He also faces trial with seven others accused of killing a government opponent whose body was found 10 years ago. The trial is scheduled to start on July 7 in Panama City.

An extradition would provide closure, said Alberto Almanza, who led a commission created to investigate crimes committed under military dictatorships from 1968 to 1989.

"This is what is best for our country, for the soul of our country," he said. "We have to see him here in Panama, humble, incarcerated either by prison or house arrest."

Noriega was sent to France in late April to face money-laundering charges after serving a 20-year sentence in the US for drug racketeering and money laundering. His prisoner of war status in the US allowed him to live in a private suite in a prison near Miami that featured a TV and exercise equipment.

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The US planned to release him in 2007 on good behaviour grounds after a judge reduced his 40-year sentence, but he was held pending extradition. Noriega could face another 10 years in prison in France if found guilty on charges that he laundered 7 million dollars (£4.8 million) in drug profits.

The former strongman seized power in 1981 after dictator General Omar Torrijos died in an unexplained plane crash. Noriega was detained when US forces invaded Panama in 1989, months after he abruptly annulled elections that he appeared to be losing.

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