Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega can be extradited to his home country, a French appeals court has said.

Story highlights

NEW: The timing of Noriega's transfer to Panama is unclear

France ordered Noriega's extradition earlier this year

Panama has requested the former dictator's return to face charges

Noriega is accused of having a political rival in Panama killed

CNN  — 

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega can be extradited to his home country, a French appeals court said in an opinion issued Wednesday, according to a court spokeswoman.

France ordered Noriega’s extradition earlier this year, responding to a Panamanian government request for the former dictator’s return to face charges that he had a political rival killed. The extradition was held up by court action, however.

It was unclear when French Prime Minister Francois Fillon would sign the extradition order to set in motion Noriega’s transfer.

Last year, a French court sentenced Noriega to seven years in prison for money laundering. He also was fined almost 2.3 million euros ($2.9 million), the amount of drug money he was accused of laundering through French banks.

Noriega denied the charges.

Panamanian officials want him to face justice there in the case of the killing of Hugo Spadafora, a doctor and political opponent of Noriega. Noriega was convicted in absentia of being involved with the kidnapping and killing of Spadafora in 1985.

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.

He was convicted of drug trafficking and other crimes in the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cleared the way for Noriega to be sent to France in April 2010 after he spent 20 years in a U.S. federal prison.

Noriega and his attorneys had argued 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 in Operation Nifty Package. U.S. federal courts ruled against him.

When U.S. forces invaded the country, Noriega 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 a civilian trial.

Noriega’s U.S. sentence, originally for 30 years, ended in September 2007 after time off for good behavior. However, he remained in prison while the French extradition issue was decided.

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

CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne, Tom Cohen and Alanne Orjoux contributed to this report.