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Monday, August 26 2019 @ 12:32 am EDT

French court refuses to release Noriega

Panama News(AFP) PARIS - A French court on Wednesday rejected former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega's request to be released from a Paris jail and set a trial date for June. The judges ruled that the 76-year-old general was a flight risk and said his lawyers had failed to convince them that conditions at the Paris jail were inhumane. Noriega, who ruled Panama from 1981 to 1989, was extradited to France from the United States on April 27 to face charges of laundering drug money. The ex-ruler was convicted in absentia in France in 1999 for laundering drug profits and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Under French law, defendants tried in absentia are entitled to a new trial. The court said his trial would begin on June 28 and last only three days.

Noriega had opened the hearing by pointing a finger to the sky and declaring: "May God Almighty give you the wisdom to judge this case" before turning to the prosecutor and accusing him of being a U.S. agent. The former military leader is accused of laundering 2.3 million euros ($3.1 million Cdn) in drug money from the Medellin cartel of Colombian cocaine traffickers through French banks and the purchase of luxury apartments in Paris. Noriega has denied the charges and maintains the money was from his brother's inheritance, his wife and from CIA payments he received while in power.

His lawyers last week appealed to the Red Cross to intervene, arguing that he was being held in a decrepit jail and unfairly denied prisoner of war status. Noriega, who suffers from partial paralysis and high blood pressure, has been jailed at the Paris La Sante prison, which has been criticized for its harsh conditions. The lawyers contend that the former leader should be treated as a prisoner of war as he was a general who was captured by U.S. forces during an invasion of his country in 1989.

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