MIAMI – Lawyers for former Panamanian dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega, who is set to be released from prison, plan to challenge a new French extradition request in Miami on Monday, arguing that it would violate his rights as a prisoner of war.

The U.S. attorney’s office has sought to extradite Noriega to France to serve prison time in connection with his conviction in absentia for money laundering. Noriega, who has been behind bars on international drug-trafficking and money-laundering charges since 1990, is due to be released Sept. 9 from prison in the Miami area.

Noriega’s attorneys, Jon May and Frank Rubino, said they will file a habeas corpus petition that aims to halt the French extradition and pave the way for the former general’s release to Panama. They argue that Noriega’s extradition to France would violate his rights as a prisoner of war under the Geneva Convention.

Noriega received such status after his conviction and sentencing in 1992 from U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler. The lawyers will now ask Hoeveler to enforce Noriega’s rights and halt his extradition.

“If France wants to extradite Gen. Noriega, they can file the request with Panama when he is there,” May said.

Meanwhile, a magistrate judge has set the first hearing on the French extradition complaint for Thursday. French authorities said Noriega funneled about 15 million francs, about $3.15 million, to a bank account in France between 1988 and 1989. He used part of the cash to buy three pricey apartments in Paris, officials said.

Noriega, 70, was toppled by a U.S. invasion in late 1989.

He was automatically eligible for parole after serving about two-thirds of his 30-year federal sentence. Noriega had hoped to return to Panama to fight his conviction in the slayings of two political opponents back home.

(c) 2007, The Miami Herald.

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