[JURIST] Former Central African Republic President Ange Felix Patasse [Wikipedia profile] was convicted in absentia Tuesday on fraud charges and sentenced to 20 years hard labor. Patasse and four other members of his former government have been charged with embezzlement and fraud stemming from transactions with the Libyan government in 1999 and 2000, but none were present for the trial in Bangui, which began a week earlier than the projected September 4 start date. One of Patasse's former advisers was also convicted of fraud and another advisor was found guilty of embezzlement. Patasse and another co-defendant will be tried on separate embezzlement charges in about two months.
Patasse, presently living in Togo, served as president of the Central African Republic [CIA backgrounder] from 1993 to 2003, when he was overthrown by current President Francois Bozize [BBC profile]. On Saturday, Patasse said that he did not recognize the authority of the court [Reuters report], dismissing the charges as an attack on him by a "fascist regime." Earlier this year, Patasse was referred [JURIST report] to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] for alleged war crimes during the 2002 suppression of an attempted coup, and the ICC is currently weighing those allegations. Reuters has more.