French appeals court ruled this week that former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega could be extradited to his homeland to serve time for crimes committed during his iron-fisted rule in the 1980s.
Noriega, a former US ally who ruled Panama from 1983 until his overthrow in a US invasion in 1989, spent more than 20 years in a US jail before being extradited in 2010 to France where he was convicted of money laundering.
The court acknowledges Manuel Antonio Noriega's consent to being handed over to the Panamanian authorities, the court said.
The ruling comes after the United States agreed to a second Panamanian extradition request. US approval is required because US authorities sent Noriega to France in April 2010 while he was serving time in a Miami jail.
I want to return to Panama without hatred or resentment, Noriega told the court in Spanish. I want to go back to Panama to prove my innocence in these procedures that were carried out in my absence and without legal assistance.
One of Noriega's lawyers said last week that the fallen leader should be home for Christmas and might not even go to prison because of the 77-year-old's alleged ill health.
A long-time intelligence chief who became the country's military ruler in 1983, Noriega spent 21 years in a Miami prison on drug charges after his overthrow, and then was extradited to France, where he was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of laundering money for the Medellin drug cartel.
Noriega was a close friend of CIA chief and later US president George Bush senior as well as of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. He is believed to have exchanged information for both sides.
Panama wants him extradited from France to serve three 20-year sentences for the murders of three opponents -- Hugo Spadafora, a doctor and former deputy health minister, in 1985; Captain Moises Giroldi in 1989; and union activist Heliodoro Portugal in 1970.
Panamanian authorities also want to judge Noriega -- nicknamed pineapple face for his pockmarked skin -- for other crimes committed during under his regime.
The court's decision must now in theory be followed by a decree signed by French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, although a judicial source said Noriega could return to Panama immediately as Fillon already signed such an order for a first extradition request in July.