Noriega: I am victim of a U.S. conspiracy

Paris, France (CNN) — Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega told a French court Tuesday that he’s a “victim of a conspiracy started by the United States.”

Testifying in Spanish, Noriega was speaking for the first time at his money-laundering trial, which opened Monday.

Noriega was extradited from the United States to France in April to face charges that he laundered drug trafficking profits of 15 million French francs, or 2.3 million euros (U.S. $2.8 million).

He denies the charges, and claimed Tuesday he had documents proving that he was the victim of a conspiracy.

Wearing a black suit, grey tie and red pocket handkerchief, he stood upright as he testified in a strong voice.

But, asked to review his career, he often got dates confused and had to be prompted by his lawyers.

The lawyers, Olivier Metzner and Yves Leberquier, told reporters in front of the court Monday that Noriega had always disclosed where his money came from.

His lawyers repeatedly emphasized that Noriega had been awarded the Legion d’honneur, a highly prestigious award in France that is given to individuals with outstanding civilian or military achievement.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cleared the way for Noriega to be sent to France in April after he spent more than 20 years in a U.S. federal prison.

Noriega and his attorneys had argued that the United States was violating the Geneva Convention by not sending him back to Panama, where he was seized by U.S. troops after the United States invaded that country in 1989.

U.S. federal courts ruled against him.

U.S. forces removed the ex-dictator from office during Operation Nifty Package, the 1989 invasion of Panama. Noriega had fled his offices and tried to seek sanctuary in the Vatican Embassy in Panama City.

U.S. troops set up large speakers around the compound, blaring music at all hours, a psychological ploy to rattle the general.

He eventually surrendered on January 3, 1990, and was quickly escorted to the United States for civilian trial.

After his drug conviction, Noriega was given POW status. His federal sentence, originally for 30 years, ended in September 2007 after time off for good behavior.

In Panama, Noriega is wanted for the murder of a political rival. Panama has requested his extradition, but the United States honored France’s extradition request instead.

France has already convicted Noriega in absentia for money laundering but then promised him a new trial.

Panama also has convicted him in absentia and has said he would get a new trial.

While in U.S. custody, Noriega suffered from prostate cancer and had a stroke.

The U.S. government has portrayed Noriega as the ultimate crooked cop — a man who was paid millions by the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia to protect cocaine and money shipments.

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