Leading candidate for Bissau's April vote faces legal objection

BISSAU Fri Mar 7, 2014 11:00am EST

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BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau's attorney general is seeking to block the candidate of the country's largest party from contesting next month's presidential election, accusing him of misappropriating public funds, according to an order seen by Reuters on Friday.

The attorney general says Jose Mario Vaz, who was chosen on Sunday as the candidate for the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), is suspected of embezzling a budget support grant from Angola in 2012 while he was finance minister.

"This decision is taken in order to avoid obstacles in the ongoing judicial proceedings against Jose Mario Vaz for his involvement in the embezzlement of $12.5 million," according to the request submitted to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

Vaz was among 20 candidates who submitted their candidacies to the Supreme Court ahead of a deadline on Wednesday to register for the April 13 election in the former Portuguese colony. The court is due to publish the list of approved candidates next week.

The election is meant to turn the page on a military coup two years ago. Soldiers toppled President Raimundo Pereira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior in April 2012, days before a presidential runoff which Gomes Junior was tipped to win.

Guinea-Bissau, one of the world's poorest countries, has gained notoriety as a transit point in the smuggling of South American cocaine into Europe. U.N. officials say, however, that smuggling has tailed off since 2012.

(Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Daniel Flynn)

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