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Noriega staying in US prison until extradition appeals exhausted

[JURIST] Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] will remain in a US federal prison until all appeals relating to an extradition request by France have been exhausted, despite his originally-scheduled September 9 release date [BOP materials; JURIST report], the US Department of State said Friday. Ultimately, the State Department will issue the final order on France's extradition requests. US District Judge William Hoeveler Friday rejected [ruling, PDF; JURIST report] arguments by Noriega's lawyers that his extradition to France would violate his prisoner of war status, lifting a stay of extradition he had imposed Wednesday. US government lawyers had told Hoeveler they were satisfied that France would effectively treat Noriega as a prisoner of war [JURIST report] even if it has not formally asked France to declare him such, and France itself has formally declined to do so. The State Department concluded from informal talks with France that Noriega will retain the same extra benefits in French custody that he enjoyed during his 17 years in US federal prisons, including nicer quarters, and telephone and television privileges. Hoeveler's ruling allowing the extradition has now been taken before the US Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals; it could several more weeks until the appeal process is concluded. State Department officials say, however, that they expect the extradition to go ahead.

Noriega is wanted in France on 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 Noriega's lawyers had argued that France's request was superseded by his status as a US prisoner of war and that under the Geneva Conventions the US must return him home to Panama upon his release. AP has more.

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