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Noriega money-laundering trial starts

By Associated Press
June 29, 2010

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PARIS — As Manuel Noriega went on trial in France for money laundering, the former Panamanian dictator was not allowed to wear his trademark military fatigues and appeared confused about the most basic of biographical information: his age.

Noriega, who is in his 70s, took the stand only briefly yesterday to give his name and age, but he appeared feeble, his shoulders trembling as he addressed the three-judge panel.

Noriega’s lawyers, meanwhile, complained about conditions in the prison where he is being held. The former military strongman, who spent 20 years in US custody for drug trafficking after being deposed in the 1989 invasion of his country, could return to prison for 10 years if he is convicted as charged in France.

Noriega is not permitted to wear his military uniform in France because he is not considered a prisoner of war — an issue hotly contested by his lawyers.

The former dictator started his brief testimony yesterday with a stumble, when he was asked about discrepancies in his date of birth on different legal documents. Speaking through a translator, Noriega initially said Feb. 11, 1936, then immediately corrected himself, saying he was born in 1934. There has long been confusion surrounding Noriega’s true date of birth.

The French indictment says Noriega was born in 1938, although his legal team says he was born four years earlier. As a youth, he claimed to be older than he was to win a scholarship to a military academy in Peru, and his age remains in dispute.

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