x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Noriega extradited from Paris to face punishment at home

Panama's former dictator returns home for crimes he committed during a career that saw him transformed from a close ally of Washington to the target of a US invasion.

The arrest photo of Manuel Antonio Noriega, Panama's former army general, in 1990.
The arrest photo of Manuel Antonio Noriega, Panama's former army general, in 1990.

PARIS // Manuel Antonio Noriega, Panama's former dictator, was flown home to be punished, once again, for crimes he committed during a career that saw him transformed from a close ally of Washington to the target of a US invasion.

Mr Noriega was delivered to an aircraft outside Paris by a four-car convoy.

The French Justice Ministry said France turned Mr Noriega over to Panamanian officials in accordance with extradition proceedings.

Mr Noriega's return comes after more than 20 years in US and French prisons for drug trafficking and money laundering. Panama convicted the 77-year-old military dictator during his captivity overseas for the slayings of 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 a jail cell when he lands. The ex-general could eventually leave prison under a law allowing prisoners over 70 to serve out their time under house arrest.

Many Panamanians want to see the man who stole elections and dispatched squads of thugs to beat opponents bloody in the streets to pay his debt at home.

Mr 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, Mr Noriega co-operated closely with the CIA, helping the US combat leftist movements in Latin America by providing information and logistical help. But he was playing a double game. He also began working with Colombia's Medellin drug cartel, and made millions moving cocaine to the United States.