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Manuel Noriega extradited to French court after 20 years in US custody

Today, former US ally and Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega appeared in a Paris court on charges of money laundering. He was extradited to France on Monday after two decades in a Miami jail.

By Correspondent / April 27, 2010

In this image from video from WSVN-TV, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, wearing hat, right, arrives at Miami International Airport in Miami to board an Air France flight to Paris on Monday.

WSVN-TV/AAP

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A jet-lagged Manuel Noriega appeared in a French courtroom today after an overnight Air France flight from Miami to Paris.

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At age 72 and after two decades in a Miami jail as the only official prisoner of war in US custody, the former Panamanian president now faces another 10 years in French prison if convicted of laundering $7 million in drug profits by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris in the 1980s.

Noriega’s flight departed Monday evening and arrived at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport in the early morning. He was then whisked to a courtroom to hear charges. After the hearing today, one of his French lawyers told the BBC that the aging former dictator appeared "much weakened" and was "receiving medical treatment."

The extradition followed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s signing Monday of a surrender warrant for Noriega. He had been barred from leaving the US since his arrest in 1989, though last month a Miami federal judge lifted a stay blocking his extradition.

Former US ally

Like former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega was initially supported by the US government. The US trained him in intelligence and counterintelligence operations and he remained on the CIA's payroll until February 1988, proving himself an ally in the US-backed Contra war against the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. Noriega fell out of US favor, however, when as president he became involved in drug dealing and had a political opponent beheaded.

In December 1989, then-President George H. W. Bush launched “Operation Just Cause” and sent in US troops to capture Noriega. But Noriega, who had holed himself up in the Vatican embassy, refused to surrender until after a week of US forces’ repeatedly blaring the 1965 rock song “I Fought the Law" at the compound. Accounts differ on whether the song was blasted as a form of psychological torture or if it was used to cover up negotiations.

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