San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Victim’s family seeks to block Noriega extradition

PANAMA CITY – The family of an Italian-Panamanian doctor murdered 26 years ago said Monday it will ask Italy to try former dictator Manuel Noriega for the crime and head off his extradition to Panama.

The brother of Hugo Spadafora said the family does not trust the Panamanian judicial system “because it is easy to manipulate for those who are powerful and have money.”

Noriega, a general who ruled Panama from 1983 until his overthrow in a 1989 US invasion, was sentenced in absentia in Panama to 20 years in prison for Spadafora’s murder.

After his overthrow, he was imprisoned in the United States on drug charges and in April 2010 was turned over to France, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of laundering $2.3 million in drug money.

But the French government signed a decree on July 6 ordering his extradition to Panama, where he is wanted for the Spadafora murder.

A former guerrilla fighter and vice minister of health who became a critic of the Noriega regime, Spadafora was kidnapped in 1985 and found beheaded.

“There is still time for France to send Noriega to Italy and not to Panama,” Spadafora’s brother Guido said. “It’s possible if the will is there.”

The family’s move to have Noriega tried in Italy for the murder, citing Spadafora’s dual Italian nationality, has been opposed by Noriega’s lawyers, who argue he cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

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