Noriega Headed Back to Panama, Perhaps to Trial
The former strongman was extradited from France to be sentenced in his former country for the killing of a political opponent.
Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator ousted by the U.S. in 1989, was extradited from France to be sentenced in his former country for the killing of a political opponent. Noriega spent roughly 20 years in prison in the U.S. on a racketeering conviction.
Since his release, Noriega has been living in France, CNN said.
The dictator was convicted in 1995, in absentia, for involvement in the kidnapping and killing of Hugo Spadafora. (Spadafora had denounced Noriega's corruption and collusion with drug cartels; he was found beheaded and stuffed into a post office mail bag.) A court in Panama will decide if the 77-year-old Noriega will stand trial.
The return of the former leader has Panama on edge, The Washington Post reports.
Guarded by Panamanian custodians, Noriega is to arrive on a commercial flight Sunday afternoon and then be sent to El Renacer prison, Justice Minister Roxana Mendez said. She added that he would not have a special cell.
Largely barred from making public statements during more than two decades of incarceration, the stocky onetime military intelligence chief apparently desires to speak out. “He said as much in his hearing [in France], that he is coming to Panama to proclaim his innocence,” his lawyer, Julio Berrio, told reporters in Panama.
Opponents of Noriega planned to march Friday in Panama City to repudiate the former dictator and oppose any house arrest.
The Post also notes that former allies of Noriega may be worried about secrets he could reveal. It's not clear if that also includes the CIA. Noriega was on the agency's payroll, beginning in 1967, the paper reports.
The former strongman may be most at risk. From CNN:
Authorities have strengthened security to guarantee Noriega's safety in Panama, according to Panamanian Foreign Minister Roberto Henriquez.
"We have to be ready for all the possibilities in all aspects. Noriega inspires very big emotions, and Noriega's life could very well be at risk in Panama," Henriquez said.
Judicial officials in Panama will determine whether Noriega can stand trial, Henriquez said.