An Iberia plane carrying Noriega took off from a Paris’s Orly airport shortly after 0800 GMT for Madrid, from where the 77-year-old will head for Panama.
Noriega, who was toppled by a US invasion in 1989, is due to arrive in Panama on an Iberia flight at 5:30 pm (2230 GMT), guarded by a delegation of six foreign ministry officials, police, doctors and a prosecutor who prepared the transfer in Paris.
He is to be flown by helicopter from the airport to El Renacer prison north-west of the
capital near the Panama Canal.
After serving more than 20 years in prisons in the US and France for drug-trafficking and money-laundering, Noriega will face three concurrent sentences of 20 years in jail in Panama.
He was found guilty in absentia of three cases of homicide, involving at least 11 murders:
- The death of Hugo Spadafora, a doctor who tried to expose his links with drug cartels;
- The killing of opposition figure, Heliodoro Portugal, in 1970;
- The summary execution of nine military officers who tried to overthrow him.
Noriega’s age means that he could be allowed to serve his sentence under house arrest.
The decision is in the hands of the Panamanian government and his leading opponents from when he was in power are lobbying against the move, which would entail Noriega implicitly acknowledging his guilt and renouncing any possibility of appealing against his sentences.
Minister of Government Roxana Mendez has said that in prison he will spend his
days in a "recently remodelled" facility with a private bathroom and high-tech
features aimed at boosting security.
He will be allowed visits by relatives several times a week, and local media reports say his cell will have a small visiting room, a double bed, a refrigerator, furniture and chairs, plus a ramp for easy mobility.
“What has he done to be rewarded with such luxury in jail?" asked Hugo Spadafora’s sister, Carmenza.
Noriega was on the CIA's payroll from 1968 to 1986 but then fell out with Washington.
His return has sparked speculation that he might reveal secrets about political figures and wealth amassed under his regime.