French court rules that Noriega can be extradited to Panama

Noriega
REPORTING FROM PARIS -- After 21 years in American and French prisons, the former Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega could be back home for Christmas -- only to face more time behind bars.

A French court agreed Wednesday to extradite the 77-year-old who ran the small Central American nation with an iron fist between 1983 and 1989.

Noriega was sentenced to seven years in jail by a French court last year for laundering Colombian drug money. He had previously spent two decades in prison in the U.S.

After the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989, Noriega was arrested by U.S. troops and later charged with drug trafficking. During the invasion, Noriega had sought refuge in the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Panama City. American soldiers played deafening pop and heavy-metal music day and night outside the building to flush him out.

After completing his sentence in the U.S., he was kept in prison while his lawyers contested his extradition to France.

He will return to Panama to face more time in jail.  In 1995, he was sentenced to 20 years in absentia for killing political opponents in the 1980s.

Last week, Panamanian Foreign Minister Roberto Henriquez said he believed Noriega would be back home "very soon ... perhaps before Christmas." Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli has said it will be up to a judge to decide if Noriega is sent to jail on his return or put under house arrest. 

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Photo: Former strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega, shown here in Panama when he still ruled the Latin American country before his ouster in 1989. A French court ruled Wednesday that Noriega can be extradited to his homeland to face trial. Credit: Angel Murillo / AFP / Getty Images

 
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