Panama's Manuel Noriega convicted by French court

Artist's impression of Manuel Noriega in the Paris courtroom Noriega was arrested by US troops after their invasion of Panama in 1989

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A French court has convicted Panama's former military ruler Manuel Noriega on charges of laundering drug money, sentencing him to seven years in jail.

He had denied taking payments from Colombian drug lords in the 1980s and laundering the money in France.

In April, Noriega was extradited from the US, where he had spent two decades in prison for drug-trafficking.

In 1999, a French court sentenced him to 10 years in his absence, but a fresh trial was held after he was extradited.

The former general was accused of using French banks to conceal profits from the Colombian cocaine trade.

The judge also ordered the seizure of 2.3m euros (£1.9m) of his assets.

High blood pressure

Defence lawyers said the charges were part of a global political plot against their client, and that the sentence was too harsh.

WHO IS MANUEL NORIEGA?

Manuel Noriega, pictured in 1996
  • Became de facto ruler of Panama in 1983, head of defence forces
  • Formerly one of Washington's top allies in Latin America
  • US later accused him of drug-trafficking and election-rigging
  • Surrendered to invading US troops in 1990 and was flown to the US
  • Also faces a 20-year sentence at home imposed by Panama court

The former ruler was "downhearted and surprised by this decision which he can hardly comprehend," said Yves Leberquier, for the defence.

The prosecution had alleged Noriega laundered the 2.3m euros from Colombia's Medellin drug cartel in the late 1980s through the now-defunct Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

The money was allegedly used by his wife, Felicidad, and a shell company to buy three luxury apartments in Paris.

The properties have since been seized by the French state.

Speaking in his own defence last week, Noriega dismissed the money-laundering charges as "an imaginary banking scheme".

Mr Leberquier said a lengthy prison term would equate to a life sentence for his client, who says he is 76 and who suffers from partial paralysis and high blood pressure.

Once an informer for the CIA, Noriega was arrested by US troops after their invasion of Panama in 1989.

During his trial, the former general said he had been set up by his former American paymasters.

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