French court approves Noriega’s extradition

A French appeals court ruled Wednesday 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.

Manuel Noriega is escorted onto a US Air Force aircraft (1990)
United States Air Force (File)

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.

Wednesday’s 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 to prove my innocence in these procedures that were carried out in my absence and without legal assistance,” Noriega said.

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 longtime 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.

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.

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Blundering judge frees notorious ‘drug ring’

Police officers in France were left fuming after a blundering judge got in a muddle with his calendar and accidentally released ten alleged members of a notorious drug ring.

Blundering judge frees notorious 'drug ring'
File photo: Mike Fitz

The calamitous error occurred when the magistrate at Creteil criminal court, outside Paris confused two dates in his calendar which led him to believe that the suspects had to be released back onto the streets because it would have been illegal to continue detaining them.

According to French daily Le Figaro the drug ring, known as 'Shitland', had established a "reign of terror" over an estate in Boullereaux, which has one of the highest rates for the trafficking of cannabis in the Paris area.

The gang, who had reportedly graffitied 'Bienvenue à Shitland!' (Welcome to Shitland) onto the walls of the estate, are accused of robbing residents' of their shopping on their way home from the market and demanding that neighbours pay them €10 to use the lift in their block of flats. 

They are due to face trial in April and police believed it was necessary to keep them in custody until then.

Officers were said to be "furious" over the judge's gaffe.

"We aren't blaming magistrates but this blunder will have a big impact. The investigation teams have put everything into this case over the past two years," Emmanuel Roux, the head of the national French Police Union told Le Figaro.

Police fear the gang may now never show up in court for the trial and are concerned about the knock-on effects of the men being allowed to roam the streets.
"The worst thing of all is that they will be able to walk around right under the noses of the people who witnessed their acts. They will threaten them and put all kinds of pressure on all kinds of good people with no guarantees that they will all attend their trial in April," said one police officer working in Val-de-Marne.   
Some police officers from the police union Alliance even pointed the finger at Justice Minister Christine Taubira. "It would be good if justice was applied to the same extent that it is demanded from police officers," Jean-Claude Delage, secretary general of the police union Alliance told Le Figaro.
If found guilty at trial, the gang members can expect sever jail sentences. However the magistrate's union said the case has been "severely compromised" thanks to the judge's error.