An international legal tussle is developing over the fate of Manuel Noriega, the deposed dictator of Panama, as he prepares for his release from a Florida prison.
Authorities in France, backed by the US Justice Department, are demanding that the inmate, known as “Pineapple Face” because of his pockmarked features, be extradited to Paris, where allegedly he purchased three flats using illegal drug money.
However, the Government in Panama wants him returned to his home country to face punishment for the torture and murder in 1985 of a dissident leader whose severed head was discovered in a mailbag.
Noriega, meanwhile, is also fighting to go home, hopeful that sympathetic elements in the Panamanian leadership will allow him to live out his old age with his family as a free man.
Frank Rubino, his lawyer, will go to federal court in Miami on Monday in an attempt to block the French extradition, arguing that a US judge’s classification of him as a “prisoner of war” in 1992 entitles him to repatriation under the terms of the Geneva Convention. “The US does not have . . . the authority to send General Noriega anywhere but back to Panama,” he argued.
Noriega, a military officer, promoted himself to the role of leader of Panama in 1984 and is credited by the US Senate as the founder of the Western world’s first “narco-kleptocracy” — a government based on drug profits. He was an ally initially of the US, which turned a blind eye to his Mafia-style regime and lucrative partnership with the Medellín drugs cartel, in Colombia, in return for favours that included him helping to channel arms to pro-American forces in Nicaragua and El Salvador.