Manuel Noriega Completes Prison Term, Awaits Extradition

Although Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega has completed his U.S. sentence for drug racketeering and money laundering, his trials are far from over.

Now France wants to try him on charges of laundering $25 million in cocaine profits through three major French banks and investing in three lavish Paris apartments with drug cash. But Noriega refuses to go down without a fight.

On January 14, a federal appeals court will hear arguments on Noriega’s claim that as a POW he should be sent back to Panama, 19 years after a U.S. invasion removed him from power.

The 74-year-old former dictator – and one-time CIA operative – was captured in January 1990 after he became belligerent toward the U.S., ignored democratic election results and became involved with Colombia’s Medellín cocaine cartel. Since then, he’s been in U.S. custody.

Now his fate lies on how courts in Panama, France and the U.S. decide to punish him for his drug-running past. Panamanian courts have already convicted Noriega of murder, embezzlement and corruption and sentenced him to 60 years in prison, which can be served under house arrest. Panama already has an extradition request pending with the U.S., and President Martin Torrijos said the Panamanian government would file a similar one with France if Noriega were sent there.

Noriega’s lawyers argue that he can only stand trial in France if he’s returned to Panama and then extradited, citing rules under the Geneva Conventions for Prisoners of War.

With the three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hearing arguments next week and unlikely to rule for several months (not to mention additional appeals down the line), it looks like Noriega will be hanging out in the States for quite a while longer.

What do you think should happen to Manuel Noriega?