Reuters International

Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo inspects a guard of honour upon his arrival at the presidential airport in Abuja, Nigeria May 28, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

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AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Equatorial Guinea has started proceedings against France at the highest U.N. court, seeking to block French efforts to prosecute the son of the central African nation's president on charges of money laundering, the tribunal said on Tuesday.

Last month, French prosecutors requested that Teodorin Obiang, the son of President Teodoro Obiang, be put on trial, alleging misuse of public funds for personal gain.

Obiang claims diplomatic immunity, but prosecutors have said the charges relate to his private life in France and not to his official functions.

Obiang denies wrongdoing and said his wealth, which enabled him to buy luxury real estate in Paris, a private jet and exotic sports cars, was amassed legitimately.

In a filing submitted on Monday at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Equatorial Guinea said the French proceedings "constitute a violation of the immunity to which (Obiang) is entitled under international law".

Equatorial Guinea asked the court to find that France has violated its sovereignty and international law and to drop proceedings against Obiang.

"The French courts have refused to give effect to the immunity from criminal jurisdiction to which (he) is entitled," a court statement said, citing the African country's filing.

Obiang is second vice president of the small central African state, where a majority of the population lives in poverty despite rich oil reserves. He also faces money-laundering charges in the United States.

Equatorial Guinea said it had several exchanges with France about the legal status of property in question but that "attempts at settlement initiated by (it) have failed", the tribunal quoted its filing as saying.

The case against Obiang is part of a broader French investigation into money laundering, also targeting the families of Gabon's late president, Omar Bongo, and Republic of Congo President Denis Sassou Nguesso. Together they are suspected of owning 63 luxury properties in Paris.

(Reporting By Anthony Deutsch)

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