Noriega sentenced to 40 years Ex-Panama leader cries persecution


MIAMI -- After a defiant two-hour speech in which he criticized President Bush and the U.S. military force that invaded Panama and toppled him from power, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega was sentenced yesterday to 40 years in prison on eight counts of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering.

Rejecting arguments by defense lawyers that the deposed Panamanian leader is a prisoner of war and, therefore, not subject to U.S. legal actions, Judge William M. Hoeveler said his decision was based solely on the evidence presented during the seven-month trial that concluded in April.

In that trial, Noriega became the first head of state to be convicted of criminal charges in a U.S. court.

"The politics, in this case, were not a part of the case," Judge Hoeveler said. He ordered that Noriega be handed over to the custody of the attorney general.

Judge Hoeveler imposed sentences of 20 years each on two counts, and ordered that they be served concurrently; then 15 years each on five counts, also to be served concurrently; and 5 years more on one count.

In addition, the judge imposed a fine of $100 on Noriega, who was convicted, in essence, of accepting millions of dollars in bribes for allowing the Medellin drug cartel of Colombia to ship huge amounts of cocaine through his country. He also ordered Noriega to serve three years of special probation if released.

Noriega, 58, faced a maximum sentence of 120 years in prison without parole. He now will be eligible for parole after 25 years.

The sentence was imposed after a long and rambling oration by Noriega, who had remained silent throughout his trial. Speaking in Spanish yesterday, Noriega steadfastly refused to ask the court for mercy.

Quoting figures such as Socrates, the prophet Jeremiah, Chinese philosopher Laotzu and Hillary Clinton, the general described himself as the victim of a U.S. plot to turn his country into a colony and he complained that he had not received a fair trial.

"For my part, I accuse George Herbert Walker Bush of exercising his power and authority to subvert the American judicial system in order to convict me," he said near the end of his remarks.

The lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan, promptly dismissed Noriega's comments as "a farce" and "a diatribe."

Jon May, one of Noriega's lawyers, said Noriega had decided to give the speech rather than "to plead, to admit guilt, to grovel in front of the United States."

Mr. May said that he and the lead defense lawyer, Frank A. Rubino, had told Noriega he should expect a sentence of 35 to 40 years and that Mr. Hoeveler's decision did not surprise Noriega.

"He took it with the usual stoicism and reserve," Mr. May said of his client's reaction. "He took it like a general; he took it like a man."

Noriega appeared to regard his chance to speak before sentencing as an opportunity to make assertions about U.S. intelligence activities in Latin America that he said he would have presented as evidence at trial but that had been suppressed.

He spoke several times of what he described as secret U.S. intelligence operations, including a plot to kill the Shah of Iran when he was in exile in Panama in 1979 so that the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini would order the release of U.S. hostages who were then being held in Tehran.

But the prosecution eventually moved to quash that part of Noriega's statement.

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