French court blocks extradition of Benin poison plot suspect

A French court on Wednesday ruled against extraditing a businessman implicated in a plot to kill Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi.

Patrice Talon, a successful Beninese businessman and one-time ally of the president, was accused in October 2012 of trying to kill Boni Yayi by switching his medication for poison.

Talon, 55, fled his homeland, where he already faced graft accusations, and was arrested in France in December last year but released on bail.

Three people were arrested in Benin last year in connection with the alleged assassination plot: the president's niece, his doctor and a former minister.

The case was later dismissed but the three are still in detention after Boni Yayi launched an appeal.

The French appeal court said Wednesday it could not extradite Talon because it had not been clear if an arrest warrant for him was still valid.

Talon praised the verdict as "a good decision for democracy in my country".

There was no immediate comment from the authorities in Benin. Boni Yayi is expected in Paris this week for a France-Africa summit with 40 African leaders.

Talon made his money in the cotton industry, rising to prominence as a savvy businessman who helped finance Boni Yayi's 2006 presidential campaign.

Talon backed Boni Yayi again in 2011 but balked at the president's planned constitutional reform, accusing him of changing the rules to seek a third term.

Talon's lawyer argue the poisoning charges were trumped up as revenge.

"In France, we do not extradite people when the extradition request is just a front for political persecution," William Bourdon said.

In March 2013, authorities in Benin also accused Talon of plotting a coup against Boni Yayi.

On Monday, Benin announced that the judge who had dismissed the case in Cotonou in May had fled the country and was arrested upon his arrival in the United States, where he is requesting political asylum.