Noriega jailed for drug crimes

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was jailed for seven years in France today after being convicted of laundering drug money.

Noriega has already spent 20 years in US custody for drug trafficking and was extradited to France in April to stand trial on charges there.

A French prosecutor said millions of dollars that passed through Noriega’s French bank accounts during the late 1980s were kickbacks from the powerful Medellin cocaine cartel.

Defence lawyers said the charges were part of a global political plot against Noriega. In court, Noriega cast himself as a foe of drug traffickers.

In court, Noriega portrayed himself as a foe of drug traffickers and said the money in his French accounts came from personal and family businesses. He also said some of it was payments from the CIA.

Noriega had long been considered an important CIA asset before he joined forces with drug traffickers and was implicated in the death of a political opponent.

His lawyers suggested his US conviction was part of a strategy to keep Noriega silent after his relationship with the CIA went bad.

In an energetic hour-long monologue in court last week, Noriega said his problems began when he refused to cooperate in a US plan aimed at ousting the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

He also blamed the US for a “conspiracy” that has kept him behind bars for 20 years.

France had already convicted Noriega and his wife in absentia in 1999 for laundering cocaine profits through three major French banks and using drug cash to invest in three luxurious Paris apartments on the Left Bank. He was granted a retrial.

Noriega is being held at the La Sante prison in southern Paris. His lawyers said the prison is squalid and unfit for a man of his age and rank. France has refused to grant him prisoner of war status, which he had in the US.

Behind bars in Miami, Noriega had perks including the right to wear his military uniform and insignia. In France, he is not allowed to wear his trademark uniform and has showed up in court in an ordinary suit.

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