MIAMI – A federal judge ruled against Manuel Noriega a second time Friday, concluding that the former Panamanian dictator will be treated the same as a prisoner of war in France and can be extradited to face trial there on money laundering charges.
Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler also lifted his temporary stay of the first ruling.
Exactly when Noriega might leave the United States was still uncertain, though, even with his prison sentence on a U.S. drug racketeering conviction ending Sunday.
U.S. officials have said that Noriega will continue to be held in a minimum-security prison near Miami until his extradition orders are finalized by the State Department. Noriega's lawyers also could ask higher courts to review the case, which could cause further delays.
Tom Casey, deputy State Department spokesman, said Friday that he expected "pretty quick action" to approve Noriega's extradition once the legal proceedings end.
"I would think our action would be fairly quick, and I would see no reason for us to change our basic assessment of this, which is to support the French request," Casey told reporters in Washington.
Noriega, 73, was convicted in 1992 of U.S. drug charges in a trial before Hoeveler, who declared him a POW based on his capture after a 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama. In France, Noriega is charged with laundering more than $3 million in drug proceeds through French banks and using some of the money to buy luxury apartments in Paris.
Hoeveler previously rejected claims by Noriega's lawyers that his POW status required his repatriation to Panama, where he also was convicted in absentia of embezzlement, corruption and murdering political opponents. Noriega's lawyers say he wants to return home to fight those charges.