French court approves Noriega’s extradition to Panama Paris, GTA condo sales this year smash record

by Tim Broadway

French court approves Noriega’s extradition to Panama Paris

The Associated Press

Published Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011 9:08AM EST

A French court has approved former dictator Manuel Noriega’s extradition to Panama, allowing him to return home for the first time since he was forced out in a U.S. invasion more than 20 years ago.

The appeals court announced the decision in Paris on Wednesday after months of legal procedures.

Panama sought Noriega’s extradition so that he can serve out sentences given after he was convicted in absentia there for homicide, corruption and embezzlement. Mr. Noriega has spent the last two decades behind bars in Florida and France. France’s prime minister, Francois Fillon, now needs to sign an administrative decree allowing for Noriega to be transferred, possibly within days.

Friends and foes alike have feared that Noriega might die in a French prison — notably Panamanians who fought against human rights abuses during his 1983-1989 regime. They want to see him face justice at home.

Mr. Noriega, a one-time CIA asset who lorded over Panama from 1983 to 1989, turned into an embarrassment for the U.S. after he sidled up to Colombia’s Medellin drug cartel and turned to crime. In the waning days of the Cold War, Mr. Noriega was seen by U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s administration as a pivotal ally against the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua. But he eventually fell out with Washington.

In late 1989, U.S. President George H.W. Bush ordered an invasion to oust Mr. Noriega. The dictator holed up in the Vatican Embassy, and U.S. forces blasted with incessant loud rock music until he surrendered in January 1990. Taken to Miami, he was accused of helping the Medellin cartel ship tons of cocaine into the United States.

Jurors convicted him in 1992 on eight of 10 charges, and he was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

After his U.S. sentence ended, he remained in legal limbo in Miami from 2007 to 2010, when France issued a last-minute request for his extradition to face money laundering charges. He was convicted and sentenced to seven years behind bars.

Panama wanted Mr. Noriega returned to serve two prison terms of 20 years handed down after convictions in absentia for embezzlement, corruption and murder. He is accused of murdering opponents including Moises Giroldi, a military commander who led a failed rebellion two months before the U.S. invasion, and Hugo Spadafora, whose decapitated body was found on the border with Costa Rica in 1985.




GTA condo sales this year smash record

Garry Marr Nov 22, 2011 – 11:22 AM ET

Condominium sales continue to defy those who predict a market collapse. Toronto has set a new record and now Calgary and Edmonton are poised to take off in 2012.

 Condominium sales are taking over the Greater Toronto Area new housing market and some parts of the country are following closely behind as rising costs push consumers into vertical housing, a new report suggests.

The Building Industry and Land Development Association said there were 23,747 condo sales in the Greater Toronto Area through the first 10 months of the year, smashing the previous high of 22,316 in 2007 — with two months yet to go.

High-rise sales accounted for approximately 61% of all sales in GTA from January-October. At this point last year high-rise sales only accounted for 57% of the overall market. “It’s very much becoming a condo market,” said Joe Vaccaro, acting president of BILD. “Ten years ago the split was 25% high-rise versus 75% low-rise.”

The trend appears contained not just to Toronto’s urban core but is now moving to the suburbs. “There seems to be a new trend setting in over the last couple of months with the 905 [suburban] areas outperforming Toronto when it comes to [condo] sales,” said Mr. Vaccaro.

Suburban land costs have skyrocketed because of what the industry refers to as regulatory inertia with no new land developments approved in the suburbs over the last five years. It has led to the hoarding of land and rising prices for single detached homes.

A report Tuesday from Altus Group suggests the GTA will not see any sort of slowdown in new condo construction in 2012. “New condominium apartment sales in Toronto and Ottawa continue to hum along, which will continue to buoy apartment starts in Ontario through 2012,” said Altus. Peter Norman, chief economist for the Altus Group, says population growth has supported the Toronto condominium market. “That number of people generates a fair amount of housing demand no matter what is happening,” says Mr. Norman. “Add in the interest rate environment, and them not going up, and that adds to it. There has been a restriction on [new] lots and a lot of people have been shoved into apartments.”

The group looked at 10 real estate markets across the country and found only Alberta is set to rise in 2012. Regina, along with Toronto, is forecast for flat sales. “Calgary and Edmonton employment growth in 2011 has more than made up for 2010’s declines,” says Altus. “Although employment growth will be more moderate in 2012, the strong showing this year is favourable for stronger housing starts in 2012.” Altus is forecasting apartment starts to jump to 5,475 in 2012, up from 3,975 in 2011. Single family construction is also forecast to jump to 22,325 in 2012 from 20,906, putting high-rise construction at almost 20% of the Alberta market.

Phil Soper, chief executive of Royal LePage Real Estate Services Inc., says his company has noticed the trend in top condominium apartments in its corporate owned franchises in Toronto and Vancouver. “There is the cost of the commute, the hard costs like gas and insurance but then there is the soft costs in time,” he said, noting consumers look for housing that is closer to subways and urban cores.

If anything, he says Canadian cities, including Toronto, are playing catchup when it comes to high-rise construction. “Look at big established mature cities like New York. They have much more vertical living per resident than we do, they just don’t have as much on per capita basis that is new,” says Mr. Soper. “We have hundred of thousands of new Canadians that have to be accommodated in Toronto.”