Noriega Lawyers Ask Judge to Block Extradition to France

Lawyers for former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega asked a federal judge on Wednesday to block his extradition to France, where he faces money laundering charges.

Noriega's lawyers have argued that he instead should be sent back to Panama after his release from U.S. prison, scheduled this weekend, because he is a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions.

There "is substantial reason to believe that the Republic of France, contrary to the representations of the United States, has no intention of applying the protections of the Geneva Convention, intending instead to treat General Noriega as a common criminal," his lawyers said in an emergency motion to Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler.

At a hearing last month, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Cronin said France had assured the U.S. it would honor Noriega's POW status.

Noriega was captured by U.S. military forces in a 1989 invasion of Panama designed in part to remove him from power because of his links to Colombian drug lords.

Noriega was convicted in 1992 on U.S. drug racketeering charges and is due to be freed Sunday after finishing his prison sentence, but his lawyers say the Bureau of Prisons plans to release him three days ahead of time to avoid public scrutiny.

Whenever he is released, a magistrate judge overseeing the extradition proceeding has ordered him held without bail. That means he would be transferred from a prison near Miami to the custody of the U.S. Marshals, Noriega attorney Frank Rubino has said.

Federal prosecutors planned to respond in a court filing, said Alicia Valle, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Miami. She declined further comment. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman Traci Billingsley said she was unaware of any plans to release Noriega early.

Noriega was convicted in France on charges of laundering more than $3 million in drug proceeds through French banks, with some of the money used to buy luxury apartments in Paris, while he was jailed in the U.S. The French government agreed to give him a new trial if he was extradited, according to court documents.

The former dictator also was convicted in absentia in Panama on charges of embezzlement, corruption and murdering political opponents and sentenced to 60 years, but he could wind up serving only a fraction of that time or even get house arrest there under Panamanian law.

Panama has filed an extradition request but has not actively pursued it, according to court documents.