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French Court Sentences Noriega to 7 Years in Prison

A French court on Wednesday convicted Panama's former military ruler Manuel Noriega on charges of laundering drug money, sentencing him to seven years in prison.

Manuel Noriega spent most of the past two decades behind bars in the United States. Now a French court has sentenced him to another seven years in prison. He was found guilty by a Paris court of laundering about $2 million worth of illegal drug money. He is accused of taking money from Colombian drug lords while he was in power during the 1980s and putting the money in French bank accounts.

Noriega's lawyers argued that as a serving head of state, he should have been immune from prosecution. One of his lawyers, Antonin Levy, called the decision by the French court politically motivated.

"The critical issue was, of course, politics," said Levy. "They by all means are trying to keep General Noriega in jail. They don't want him to go out. He's been in jail for more than 20 years now and the maximum rule is to keep him inside a cell. And they will do everything they can, everything possible to make him stay in jail and not go back to Panama."

Noriega was arrested in 1990, after the United States invaded Panama and removed him from power. He was given a 40-year sentence in 1992, which was later reduced to 30 years on appeal and further reduced to 17 years. He was held in custody pending his extradition to France earlier this year.

Noriega's attorney, Olivier Metzner, told journalists that the sentence was severe. Metzner said Noriega should not spend another seven years imprisoned in France after already serving his sentence in the United States.

Noriega is 76 years old and his lawyers say he is in poor health.