Noriega Set for Release — to Where? Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator convicted by a U.S. judge in 1992 on drug trafficking and racketeering charges, is due for release in September, after 15 years in a federal prison near Miami. Noriega is contesting a plan to extradite him to France.
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Noriega Set for Release — to Where?

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Noriega Set for Release — to Where?

Noriega Set for Release — to Where?

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.

GREG ALLEN: It took a U.S. invasion of Panama and loud rock music played incessantly outside of the Vatican's embassy where he'd taken refuge, but in early 1990, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was arrested and put on trial in Miami. He was convicted on drug and racketeering charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison. That sentence was reduced because of good behavior. And on September 9th, Noriega will have completed his sentence. His lawyer, Frank Rubino, says his client wants to return to Panama.

MONTAGNE: He wants to go back home. He wants to sit on his rocking chair, enjoy his grandchildren and be an elder statesman.

ALLEN: But that's something U.S. and French authorities are working to prevent. Last week, federal prosecutors in Miami filed papers to extradite Noriega to France, where he was convicted in absentia to 10 years in prison for money laundering. French authorities say Noriega and family members illegally transferred millions of dollars through that country's banks, using some to purchase three apartments in Paris. A hearing on that extradition request is scheduled later this week. But in an effort to head off his transfer to France, Noriega has filed his own legal papers. He's gone to court in Miami asking a federal judge to block the extradition on the grounds that he is not just a felon, but also a prisoner of war. And as a POW, Rubino said, Noriega has the right to return home.

MONTAGNE: The Geneva Conventions specifically state that at the cessation of hostilities, the enemy combatant or prisoner of war must immediately be returned to the country of his origin.

ALLEN: While the U.S. and France have been making plans for Noriega's future, the government of Panama has been relatively quiet. Top officials there, including the president, say they want Noriega returned to Panama, where he's charged with murder, human rights violations and racketeering. But Panama has no plans to intervene in the French extradition request, leaving Rubino to question whether they really want him back.

MONTAGNE: It is our opinion that a deal has been made between France, Panama and the United States to prohibit or to keep the general from going back to Panama.

ALLEN: Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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