Paris: Former Panamanian dictator Manuel
Noriega should be jailed for 10 years for laundering millions
of dollars in drug money through the French banks, a French
prosecutor said on Wednesday, as defense lawyers dismissed the
accusations as a political plot.
In the closing arguments of the three-day trial,
prosecutor Michel Maes insisted money passing through the
general`s French accounts during the late 1980s were kickbacks
from the powerful Medellin cocaine cartel.
Noriega spent 20 years in US custody for drug trafficking
and was extradited to France in April. A French court had
convicted the ex-dictator on the money laundering charges in
absentia in 1999, but he was granted a retrial.
Yves Leberquier, one of Noriega`s lawyers, branded the
proceedings a "political case" and not a judicial one, and
asked the judges to consider the political context that pitted
Noriega against the United States ahead of the 1989 US
invasion of his country.
Leberquier questioned the impartiality of Noriega`s drug
trafficking trial in the US and said the French proceedings
were "the continuation of this grand masquerade."
Leberquier called the persecutor`s request for Noriega to
be sentenced to 10 years "a life sentence, in reality." The
76-year-old former general`s age and feeble health mean he
would certainly die behind bars if convicted, Leberquier said.
In testimony yesterday, Noriega insisted he was the
victim of a US-orchestrated "conspiracy." In a monologue
lasting more than an hour, Noriega explained his long and
friendly dealings with the US - including the CIA - and blamed
his legal woes on his falling out with the Americans.
Noriega had been considered a valued CIA asset for years
before he joined forces with drug traffickers and was
implicated in the death of a political opponent.
The French trial proceedings wrap up today. A verdict in
the case is expected in several weeks or months.