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Latin America

Clinton Signs Off On Noriega Extradition

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday signed off on the extradition of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to France, clearing the way for him to stand trial there on money laundering charges.

Clinton signed a "surrender warrant" for Noriega after a federal judge in Miami lifted a stay blocking the extradition last month, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.

The move cleared the last hurdle to Noriega's extradition; he left Miami on Monday reportedly shackled aboard an Air France jet bound for Paris.

"When he arrives, he will be presented to the prosecutor and notified of the arrest warrant, and he will confirm his opposition" to the warrant, said Yves Leberquier, one of his French lawyers. "After that, at some point Tuesday, Noriega will be presented to a Paris judge who will determine whether he should stay in custody pending further action."

Leberquier said Noriega's lawyers will push for that hearing to be open "so that the defense can be totally transparent."

Noriega, who spent two decades in U.S. custody, completed his sentence for drug trafficking charges in 2007, but continued to be held in federal prison in Miami while he fought his extradition to France.

He was held in the U.S. as a prisoner of war, and because of that, Noriega's lawyers contended that under the Geneva conventions, he should be returned to his home country, Panama.

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That argument was rejected by an appeals court, and last month the Supreme Court declined to hear his case, clearing the way for the extradition.

The former general and CIA informant ruled Panama from the early 1980s until he was captured by the U.S military during the invasion in 1990.

NPR's Greg Allen contributed from Miami