The very first case study I ever used in AML training was about Manuel Noriega, who at the time was serving a thirty year sentence in the US for drug trafficking and money laundering. Today, after more twists and turns than an “EastEnders” Christmas special, he’s back in Panama. PEPs are such hot news at the moment that we sometimes forget the old stories rumbling away in the background, and so I am particularly pleased to see this brutal man returning to face justice in the country he terrorised for so long.
It has been a long fight for the Panamanian authorities to get their hands on him. The US had the first bite at the cherry, capturing him in 1989 and sticking him in jail for thirty years for his work with the Colombian drug cartels. Then the French realised that he had laundered money through their banks and property sector, and they asked for him to be sent over in 2007 so that he could start a seven-year sentence in Paris. And finally the French authorities agreed to extradite him to Panama, where a court has already found him guilty of murder, corruption and embezzlement and sentenced him to three twenty-year terms. He went straight from the airport to prison first thing this morning, after flying overnight in the company of the Panamanian attorney-general – I hope the in-flight movies were good, as conversation might have been a bit stilted.
Noriega is 77, and Panamanian law allows those over 70 to serve custodial sentences at home. But if I were him, I would be asking to stay within the protective walls of El Renacer prison – there are plenty of people in Panama whose memories of Noriega and his time in power are still raw.