Noriega goes on trial in France

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel
Noriega is standing trial in Paris for money laundering accused of using French
bank accounts to launder kickbacks from a Colombian cocaine cartel in the late
1980s.

Noriega appeared confused during
his brief testimony, stumbling over his age.

His shoulders trembled as he stood.
Asked to state his birth date, Noriega initially said 11 February, 1936, then
immediately corrected himself, saying he was born in 1934. He spoke through a
translator.

 After finishing up a 20-year sentence in the
United States for drug racketeering and money laundering, Noriega was
extradited to Paris in late April to face accusations that he tried to hide
drug money in France.

Since then, Noriega has been held
at the La Sante prison in southern Paris. His lawyers have unsuccessfully
pushed for his release, arguing that the prison is too dirty and dilapidated
for him and taking their complaints to the International Committee of the Red
Cross.

If convicted in France, 72-year-old
Noriega – deposed after a 1989 U.S. invasion – could face another 10 years in
prison. Panama is also seeking his extradition, bringing hope to his countrymen
who want to see the former military strongman face justice at home for alleged
torture and killings of opponents.

France already convicted Noriega
and his wife in absentia in 1999 for laundering several million dollars in
cocaine profits through three major French banks and using drug cash to invest
in three posh Paris apartments on the Left Bank.

France agreed to give him a new
trial if he was extradited. Noriega’s wife, Felicidad Sieiro de Noriega, is
living in Panama and faces no charges there.

The in-absentia conviction says
Noriega “knew that (the money) came directly or indirectly from drug
trafficking.” It said he helped Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel by
authorizing the transport of cocaine through Panama en route to the United
States.

Noriega has maintained that he
fought against drug trafficking and that the money came from other sources,
including payments from the CIA. He had been considered a valued CIA asset for
years before he joined forces with drug traffickers and was implicated in the
death of a political opponent.

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Manuel Noriega, 76, is accused of using money from a Colombian cocaine cartel to buy luxury properties in the French capital in the 1980s.
Photo: Guardian.co.uk