The U.S. extradited former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega to France on Monday, clearing the way for him to stand trial there on money laundering charges.
The former strongman, who was being held in a federal prison in Miami, was on an Air France flight to Paris, according to a Department of Justice source who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to comment on the case.
Yves Leberquier, one of Noriega's lawyers, confirmed Noriega was headed to France.
"When he arrives he will be presented to the prosecutor and notified of the arrest warrant, and he will confirm his opposition" to the warrant, Leberquier said.
After that, at some point Tuesday, Noriega will be presented to a Paris judge who will determine whether he should stay in custody pending further action. Leberquier said Noriega's lawyers will push for that hearing to be open "so that the defense can be totally transparent."
Earlier, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed a so-called surrender warrant for Noriega after a federal judge in Miami lifted a stay blocking the extradition last month, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
"Now that all judicial challenges to Noriega's extradition have been resolved, the secretary of state issued a surrender warrant for his extradition to France," he said.
Noriega was ousted as Panama's leader and put on trial following a 1989 U.S. invasion that drove him from power. He was convicted of drug racketeering and related charges in 1992. His sentence ended in 2007, but France requested Noriega's extradition shortly before his U.S. drug trafficking sentence ended Sept. 9, 2007.
The French claim Noriega laundered some $3 million in drug proceeds by purchasing luxury apartments in Paris. Noriega was convicted in absentia, but France agreed to give him a new trial if he was extradited.
Federal judges and the U.S. Supreme Court turned away Noriega's claims that the Geneva Conventions treaties regarding prisoners of war require him to be returned to Panama. Noriega was declared a POW after his 1992 drug conviction by a Miami federal judge.
Noriega, believed to be in his 70s, was Panama's longtime intelligence chief before he took power in 1982. He had been considered a valued CIA asset for years, but as a ruler he joined forces with drug traffickers and was implicated in the death of a political opponent.
President George H.W. Bush ordered an invasion in late 1989 to oust him. He was brought to Miami and convicted of drug charges.
Associated Press writers Angela Charlton in Paris, Pete Yost in Washington and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.
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