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French corruption trial of African leader's son postponed

A French court decided to adjourn the corruption trial of the son of Equatorial Guinea's president until June 19. Proceedings in the case against Teodorin Obiang have come to a halt two days after they had begun.

Teodorin Obiang is accused of plundering money from government coffers to buy a grand mansion in Paris as well as a number of luxurious cars, allegedly embezzling more than 100 million euros ($105 million). Assets belonging to Obiang have been seized in several countries in the run-up to the trial.

Obiang is the eldest son of Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and also a vice-president of the small oil-rich state on the African west coast. The postponement of the proceedings gives Teodorin Obiang an additional six months to prepare his defense against the charges. The prosecution and anti-corruption group "Transparency International," which acts as one of the plaintiffs in the case, called the defense request for the adjournment a delay tactic.

Obiang meanwhile has failed to appear in France to answer the charges. The case could result in a 10-year prison sentence in addition to hefty fines. Obiang is not expected to attend the trial or serve his jail sentence if he is convicted.

Multiple probes

When the trial opened on January 2, 2017, lawyers for the 47-year-old Teodorin Obiang argued that they'd had too little time to prepare their defense and arrange witnesses to call. Judges in the case agreed to delay the trial to resume on June 19. Teodorin Obiang had earlier attempted to prevent the case from going ahead while insisting he was innocent and that the funds for his lavish expenditures had come from legitimate sources.

Human rights groups have long criticized Equatorial Guinea for its record on civil liberties, highlighting unlawful killings and torture sponsored by the government in addition to allegations of bribery and corruption.

Swiss prosecutors meanwhile have also opened a money laundering probe targeting Obiang, seizing 11 luxury cars in Geneva.

ss/se (AFP, AP, Reuters)