Hearing Set for Ex-Dictator Manuel Noriega Regarding Request for Extradition to France

With his scheduled release from a U.S. prison just weeks off, former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega is fighting a French extradition request on money laundering charges.

Noriega was expected Thursday at a hearing where he was to be formally notified of the extradition request, federal prosecutors said. A decision on the request was not expected for several weeks.

Noriega, 71, was convicted in 1992 of drug and racketeering charges involving his acceptance of bribes from Colombia's Medellin cartel to allow shipments of U.S.-bound cocaine through Panama. His 30-year prison term was reduced for good behavior, and he is scheduled to be released Sept. 9.

He had intended to fly immediately to Panama to fight a conviction in the slayings of two political opponents, his lawyers have said.

But French authorities have requested extradition because of Noriega's conviction in absentia on drug trafficking-related charges there in 1999. The French extradition request includes assurance that Noriega is entitled to a new trial once he is in France, according to the extradition request.

Noriega's attorneys have asked Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who presided over his trial and declared him a prisoner of war, to block the French extradition attempt. Hoeveler scheduled an Aug. 10 hearing on Noriega's request.

U.S. forces captured Noriega after a 1989 military invasion ordered by then-President George H.W. Bush in part because of Noriega's links to drug traffickers. It later emerged that Noriega had been on the CIA payroll for years and assisted U.S. interests throughout Latin America, including acting as liaison to Cuban President Fidel Castro.

France wants Noriega to face money-laundering charges involving about $3.15 million in drug profits allegedly used in part to buy luxurious apartments in Paris.