[JURIST] US District Judge William Hoeveler temporarily blocked the French extradition of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] Wednesday to give Noriega's lawyers time to argue that his rights will not be fully protected in France. Defense lawyers will have until 9 AM local time Thursday to present their case for why the former dictator should not be turned over to French authorities, and US prosecutors will have three hours to respond. Noriega is wanted in France to face charges of money laundering through French banks. Noriega and his wife were sentenced in absentia [AP report] to 10 years in jail in 1999, but France has agreed to hold a new trial if he is extradited. Noriega's lawyers had argued that France's request was superseded by his status as a US prisoner of war and that under the Geneva Conventions the US must return him home to Panama upon his release.
Noriega, who has spent the last 17 years in US custody, including 15 years in federal prison on drug trafficking and racketeering charges, is set to be released [BOP materials] on September 9, 2007, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons [official website]. Noriega, a former US ally who ruled Panama as a military dictator for six years, was ousted by US troops in 1989. After going into self-exile in Panama City, he was flushed out by US troops in 1990, surrendered and was taken to Miami, where he was put on trial. His initial sentence of 40 years in prison was later reduced to 30 years [NYT report] after he persuaded officials that he helped promote US interests in Latin America during the Cold War. In 2001, a Panama judge convicted Noriega of corruption [AP report], bringing his sentence time in that country to 90 years, following a previous conviction in 1995 for conspiracy to commit murder, which prompted calls for his extradition back to Panama [BBC report]. Noriega hopes to challenge the murder charge after his release this year. AP has more.