Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator, was sentenced to seven years behind bars today after a French court found him guilty of laundering 2.3m euros worth of drug profits during his time in power.
The military strongman, who was ousted by Washington in 1989 and has spent the past 20 years in jail in the United States, looked startled as the verdict was read out in the austere Paris Tribunal correctionel and had to be helped from the court by French gendarmes.
During his trial last week the general insisted he was innocent of the charges, which he said were the imaginary creations of a US-led conspiracy.
Leaving the court today, Noriega’s lawyers described the sentence as severe, although it was less than the 10 years requested by prosecutors. The judge also ordered the seizure of nearly $3m of his assets.
“They are asking a man who has already served 20 years in prison to go back to prison,” Olivier Metzner told reporters. “We must ask, ‘why’?” he said, hinting at political motivations for the ruling.
Now aged 76 and, his lawyers say, in frail health, Noriega has been in France since April, when he was extradited from Miami to Paris and sent to La Santé prison – home to, among others, the notorious Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
Accused of having stashed millions of euros from a Colombian cocaine cartel into French bank accounts during the 1980s and using the money to buy himself and his wife several luxury properties in Paris, the former leader had already been sentenced by a French court in absentia to 10 years in prison. Paris had promised him a retrial in the event of his extradition.
Noriega is also the subject of an extradition order to Panama, where he has also been tried in absentia.