PANAMA CITY – The U.S. Embassy in this capital communicated to the Panamanian government in writing that Washington approved the extradition to Panama of former Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, who is imprisoned in Paris, the Panamanian Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
Via a diplomatic note dated June 16, 2011, the U.S. Embassy informed the Panamanian government that on May 24 of this year, Washington gave French authorities its approval to extradite Noriega to Panama, the ministry said in a statement
The Foreign Ministry is waiting for the French government to officially communicate its decision regarding the extradition requests presented by Panama City regarding the former military chief, the statement said.
Panama wants Noriega to be extradited so that he can serve the sentences handed down against him for assorted crimes by this country’s judicial authorities, the ministry said.
The La Prensa newspaper had reported Sunday that U.S. authorities had given the green light to France for the extradition. Noriega has been serving time in a French prison since 2010 for laundering illegal drug profits.
Noriega, according to Panamanian court authorities, must serve six sentences totaling 67 years behind bars, when he returns to the Central American country.
The former dictator was found guilty in Panama of the murders of guerrilla physician Hugo Spadafora and Maj. Moises Giroldi, of the Albrook massacre, of depriving Maj. Humberto Macea of his freedom, of one corruption case and one embezzlement case.
Also, he must pay for the disappearance and murder of community leader Heliodoro Portugal in 1978.
In that case, in April 2010, a Panamanian court opened criminal trial proceedings against Noriega and seven other former soldiers.
The hearing scheduled for July 29, however, was postponed because Noriega was not notified about it.
Noriega has asked to be extradited to Panama to face the charges against him there.
The former general must come to Panama to serve his sentence and to “identify his accomplices,” Panamanian Ombudswoman Patria Portugal, the daughter of the disappeared community leader, said.
Noriega will be returned “quite soon” to Panama to serve the sentences against him once French authorities issue the extradition order, President Ricardo Martinelli said on June 8.
“I think that Noriega is coming quite soon ... I don’t know what flight or anything like that, but I understand that he’s coming soon and is going to serve his sentence here, in Panama,” Martinelli said.
When asked how he knew that the former dictator would be extradited so soon, Martinelli responded bluntly, saying “Because I know it,” and adding that for “a gentleman of 75 (like Noriega) all the prisons in Panama are secure.”
Panamanian law establishes that when a prisoner “is a person of age 70 or more,” the judge, provided it is possible, may order that the prison sentence be served at the prisoner’s home except “when (the case) involves crimes against humanity or the crime of forced disappearance.”
Noriega served 20 years in prison in the United States on drug trafficking charges before being extradited to France in 2010, where he was sentenced to 7 years behind bars for laundering illicit drug cash.
The former Panamanian strongman surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990, to U.S. troops who had invaded Panama in December 1989, an incursion that put an end to the military dictatorship established in 1968 by Gen. Omar Torrijos (1929-1981).