San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Noriega could be heading home soon


Former Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega could be back on his native soil within the year, despite being sentenced yesterday to seven years in a French prison for money laundering.
That’s the optimistic prediction of Noriega’s Panamanian lawyer, Julio Berrío, who thinks French judges will agree to reduce the aging general’s sentence to eight months.
“We hope to bring him home so he can spend his final days in Panama close to his family. He is not a danger to anyone in this country,” Berrío told The Nica Times Wednesday in a phone interview from Panama City.
A French judge sentenced Noriega to seven years in prison and a 10 million ($12.5 million) fine for laundering money in France in the 1980s. The judge also ordered that he pay an additional $2.5 million in legal expenses and have his assets frozen in France.
Still, Berrío and the rest of Noriega’s legal defense team remain optimistic. Berrío said the three years that the 76-year-old Noriega spent fighting extradition to France from a U.S. jail cell will count as time served in France. Plus the general’s age, poor health and good behavior should combine to convince the judge to reduce the sentence to eight months, Berrío said.
Noriega ruled Panama from 1983 to 1989, when he was ousted by a U.S. invasion and whisked to Miami to face drug trafficking charges. The former strongman served 20 years in U.S. custody as a prisoner of war before being extradited to France in April (TT, April 30).
Noriega also faces murder charges in Panama.
For more on this story, see the July 16 print or digital edition of The Tico Times.

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