PARIS (Reuters) - France should make its decision on whether to extradite former Panamanian ruler Manuel Noriega by the end of June, after Washington consented to a Panamanian extradition request, a French diplomatic source said on Thursday.
Noriega would have a month to launch any process to fight the extradition but his lawyers have indicated in the past that he wants to return to Panama, suggesting he could be home by early August.
Noriega, a tough slum kid who muscled his way to the top of Panama’s military and took de facto power before he was overthrown in a 1989 U.S. invasion, is in a French prison following his conviction for laundering millions of euros into bank accounts and properties in the 1980s.
Panama wants him extradited so that he can serve sentences in his homeland for various crimes. He could face as much as 20 years imprisonment.
“The justice ministry should be preparing the extradition decree which then has to be signed by the prime minister,” said the source. “We think it’s possible by the end of the month. It could be very quick.”
Noriega, 77, served 20 years in prison in the United States for drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering before being extradited to France in 2010, where he had been sentenced in absentia in 1999 to seven years in jail.
He had been expected to qualify for an early release.
The law in Panama stipulates that anybody over 70 cannot be put in jail but only under house arrest.
“Once the decision is made, we will decide state to state whether it us who delivers him or whether it’s them that pick him up,” the source said.
After years of protests in Panama that Noriega crushed, U.S. troops invaded in December 1989 in their largest military intervention at the time since the Vietnam War.
He surrendered in January 1990 after holing up in the Vatican Embassy, unable to withstand an assault of loud rock music that Americans blasted at the mission night and day.
Noriega finished his U.S. sentence for drug trafficking three years ago but had remained in a Florida prison while fighting in vain against extradition to France.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Angus MacSwan