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US Judge Refuses to Block Noriega Extradition


A U.S. judge has refused to block the extradition of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to France to face money laundering charges. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports that Noriega is seeking to return home when his U.S. prison term ends next month.

The federal judge in Miami rejected claims from attorneys for former Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, who are seeking to block an extradition request from France. The lawyers filed motion in July, arguing that Noriega should be returned to Panama, because he was declared a U.S. "prisoner of war" following his 1992 conviction on drug trafficking charges.

In his written decision, District Judge William Hoeveler noted that the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war does not require that Noriega be repatriated, nor does it protect him from future prosecutions. He also ruled that it is unclear if Panama is actively seeking Noriega's return to face charges of embezzlement, corruption and murder.

Noriega's attorney Frank Rubino said he was disappointed by the ruling, and said Panama's government is partly to blame for failing to press its extradition claim. "Panama obviously is terrified and scared to death that Noriega would return to Panama, and that is why they have done nothing about getting his return," he said.

Noriega's lawyers have alleged that officials from France, Panama and the United States have agreed to the French extradition, to save Panama's government from any political embarrassment. Panamanian officials say they have filed several extradition requests in the United States.

Attorney Rubino said he will consult with Noriega about filing another U.S. court motion or making a possible appeal to the United Nations to block the extradition.

Noriega is set to be released from a U.S. prison on September 9, after serving 17 years of a drug sentence.

In France, a court already has issued a 10-year prison term against Noriega on charges of using millions of dollars in alleged drug money to buy luxurious apartments in Paris.

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