Judge Says He’ll Decide Whether Noriega Is Moved With AM-Panama Bjt
MIAMI (AP) _ A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the court has final say over whether Manuel Noriega can be moved from Miami while the ousted Panamanian dictator awaits trial on drug trafficking charges.
U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler said U.S. marshals must submit any plans to transfer Noriega, and defense attorneys will have an opportunity to respond before a decision is made.
Requests and responses concerning any move will be sealed from the public.
Noriega’s attorney, Steven Kollin, said he opposes moving Noriega.
″I don’t want a change, my client doesn’t want a change,″ Kollin told the judge during Tuesday’s court session.
U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen did not say if he wanted Noriega to remain in Miami, noting U.S. marshals will decide whether to transfer him.
It could not be determined whether marshals made any requests to move Noriega after Tuesday’s hearing because of the order to seal such requests.
Hoeveler also set a Jan. 26 bond hearing for Noriega, who attended the one- hour court session dressed in dark slacks and a light-blue shirt. Afterward, Noriega was returned to his quarters below the courthouse.
Hoeveler held Tuesday’s session on a motion by the U.S. attorney’s office for the bond hearing. But the judge postponed the hearing at the request of defense attorneys, who said they needed time to prepare.
Defense attorneys had waived an immediate bond hearing at Noriega’s arraignment on drug trafficking charges last week, but prosecutors Tuesday cited no legal precedent for dropping the hearing.
Hoeveler said, ″This case is at it’s beginning and it is very important the defendant is entitled ... to whatever time he needs to prepare his defense.″
Noriega, who was toppled by the U.S. invasion of Panama, has been held in a subterranean facility at the federal courthouse since arriving in Miami last Thursday, sources who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press.
U.S. marshals and Noriega’s attorneys refuse to disclose his whereabouts, although meetings with defense counsel have been held in the downtown courthouse.
Quoting an unidentified source, The New York Times reported in Tuesday’s editions that Noriega probably would be taken to the federal penitentiary in Atlanta.
But Angie Sheffer, spokeswoman for the Atlanta prison, said Tuesday that no preparations were being made for Noriega’s arrival.
″We have not been given any information about whether (Noriega) will be sent here,″ she said.
Defense attorney Steven Kollin said ″appropriate motions″ would be filed if Noriega is moved to a location where regular meetings with lawyers are not possible.
Federal officials believe the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal prison south of Miami, does not offer adequate security to hold Noriega, The Times said.
Noriega’s quarters below the courthouse reportedly are lavish compared with the spartan room at the Vatican’s papal nuncio in Panama City, where Noriega took refuge for 10 days following the U.S. invasion.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said Noriega was being held in a special facility principally used for those in the federal witness security program. The so-called WITSEC area includes a bedroom, living room with a television and radio, and kitchen, although Noreiga’s food has been brought from the outside.
The area’s air conditioning and electrical system operate independently from the rest of the courthouse, sources said.
The complex was designed to accommodate important federal witnesses and others awaiting new identities through th federal witness protection program. In some cases, family members of the witnesses have been allowed temporary residence in the area.
Daniel Horgan, U.S. marshal for south Florida, would not confirm the existence of the WITSEC area.
Kollin and co-counsel Frank Rubino say they have met daily with Noriega, charged with taking $4.6 million in bribes from Colombia’s Medellin cartel to turn his nation into a way station for cocaine traffic. Last week, they said they didn’t expect to make their first motions in the case for 30 days.
They said they will likely challenge the court’s jurisdiction over Noriega, who they claim is a head of state and subject to diplomatic immunity from prosecution. Defense attorneys also claim the February 1988 grand jury indictment of Noriega was politically motivated and the Dec. 20 U.S. invasion of Panama violated international law and treaties.
Both defense attorneys and prosecutors have said no plans are under way for a plea bargain with Noriega.
Another of the 16 defendants, Eduardo Pardo, 44, pleaded innocent Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate William Turnoff, who set a detention hearing for Jan. 16. Pardo, accused of transporting drug money from the United States to Panama, is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.