ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Ivory Coast opposition politician Guillaume Soro vowed to press ahead with his presidential candidacy in the October election after being sentenced Tuesday in absentia to 20 years in prison on charges of embezzling public funds and money laundering.

Soro, who has been living in Europe, diverted his plane in the air instead of returning home to Ivory Coast last December when it became clear that Ivorian authorities had issued an arrest warrant for him.

The former prime minister and National Assembly president also faces charges of attempting to destabilize the West African economic powerhouse in a separate criminal case.

Soro quickly reiterated his plans Tuesday to run anyway in October, and he lashed out at Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, a one-time political ally whom Soro now accuses of trying to eliminate him through politically motivated charges.

“This man who today wears the clothes of a dictator with great ease, who submits justice to his boot and orders political death sentences against his rivals in order to exclude them from electoral competition, embodies the worst version of an African leader,” Soro said in a statement carried on social media.

Soro's legal team said they had not been informed of Tuesday's court hearing and were not present when the conviction and sentence were rendered.

There was no immediate comment from Ivory Coast's judicial ministry or the presidency following Tuesday's verdict.

Soro and his allies helped Ouattara come to power when then-President Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after losing the election, and more than 3,000 people died during the violent 2010-2011 crisis.

Soro later fell out of favor with Ouattara while serving as parliament speaker and ultimately stepped down. And Ouattara has shown signs he might consider vying for a third term if Gbagbo decides to run.

Even as political tensions mount, it's unclear whether the global COVID-19 pandemic could impact the timing of Ivory Coast's presidential election. The country has reported nearly 1,200 confirmed cases and 14 deaths after people infected in Europe traveled home.


Associated Press writer Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.