MIAMI - The United States can send former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to France for trial on money-laundering charges without violating his rights as a prisoner of war, a U.S. appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
After he finished his U.S. prison sentence in September 2007, U.S. courts ordered him extradited to France to face money-laundering charges there.
Noriega, who is in his 70s and has spent more than 19 years in U.S. prison, has remained in a Miami-area prison pending completion of his appeal. He was convicted in absentia in France of laundering millions in cocaine profits through French banks and using drug money to buy three luxury apartments. He would be granted a new trial if extradited.
Noriega was captured in Panama in January 1990 after U.S. troops invaded the country a month earlier and he was declared a prisoner of war during his subsequent drug trafficking trial in Miami.
Noriega's attorneys had argued extradition to France would violate his rights under the Geneva Conventions, which govern the treatment of war captives. They argued he should be repatriated to Panama.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta rejected that argument. It agreed with the lower court that nothing in the Geneva treaties prohibits his extradition to France, which has given a guarantee that it will safeguard Noriega's rights as a prisoner of war.
Noriega's attorneys were still weighing whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"We're not surprised by the result and we still believe that we're correct and will continue to consider whatever options are left," said Jon May, one of the attorneys.
"The person who has the last word is the secretary of state ... we still have remedies available."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would have to sign off on Noriega's extradition.
Noriega, an army general and one-time CIA informant who once ruled Panama like his personal fiefdom, was convicted in Miami in 1992 on drug trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy charges.