Africa

Former Mauritania president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, 10 others charged with corruption

In this file photo taken on 01 August 2019, Mauritania's outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz looks on during a swearing-in ceremony.


In this file photo taken on 01 August 2019, Mauritania’s outgoing president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz looks on during a swearing-in ceremony.

  • Former Mauritania president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
    and about 10 other figures have been charged with corruption.
  • This follows an investigation into Aziz’s decade-long
    rule and a probe into his financial affairs last year.
  • Aziz launched a military coup in 2008 and served
    two terms as president before being succeeded in August 2019 by Mohamed Ould
    Cheikh El Ghazouani.

Nouakchott – A judge in Mauritania’s capital
Nouakchott on Thursday charged ex-president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and about 10
other figures with corruption, following an investigation into his decade-long
rule.

The move marks the latest step in the downfall of
Aziz, a former general who seized power in the Saharan state in 2008, which
began when investigators started probing his financial affairs last year.

Following a state prosecutor’s request, the judge
also placed Aziz, one of his sons-in-law, two former prime ministers, five
former government ministers and four businessmen under judicial supervision,
according to a source close to the case.

Mohameden Ould Icheddou, one of Aziz’s lawyers,
confirmed the information to AFP. He added that his client refused to answer
questions from the judge, claiming constitutional immunity.

Aziz, 64, launched a military coup in 2008 and
served two terms as president before being succeeded in August 2019 by Mohamed
Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, his former right-hand man and ex-defence minister.

Ghazouani has kept Aziz at arm’s length since he
came to power, however.

Last year, Mauritania’s parliament established a
commission to investigate suspected embezzlement under Aziz.

Among other issues, the inquiry probed the handling
of oil revenue, the sale of state property, the winding up of a publicly owned
food-supply company and the activities of a Chinese fishing firm.

Police then detained Aziz in August for questioning
in the case, before stripping him of his passport.

The former president refused to answer questions
then too.

“I am a victim of a settling of old scores,
but I am going to defend myself,” Aziz said after his release from
detention in August.

After months of investigation, Aziz was summoned on
Wednesday to a hearing with the state prosecutor, who interviewed about 30
people allegedly implicated before deciding to request charges for about ten.

Aziz’s defence lawyers said that the case is
“about dragging a whole system and its men before the police and
besmirching their honour”.

The prosecutor Ahmedou Ould Abdallahi said he did
not ask the judge to place Aziz in custody because the case against him is
likely to be lengthy.

Abdallahi added that cash and assets – including companies,
apartments and vehicles – worth the equivalent of about 96 million euros, had
already been seized as part of the investigation.

Of that sum, the equivalent of about 67 million
euros belonged to one of the suspects, whom the prosecutor did not name.

‘High treason’

Aziz had already ignored a call to testify before
the parliamentary inquiry into his suspected corruption in early July.

But Mauritanian MPs swiftly approved a law to set
up a High Court of Justice that would be empowered to try presidents and
ministers in cases of “high treason”.

Aziz’s legal team insists that the constitution
protects the former president from prosecution, however.

In August, the parliamentary inquiry formally
handed its report into the former general’s affairs to the state prosecutor’s
office.

The move prompted a government reshuffle in
Mauritania, with Ghazouani replacing four ministers whose names had surfaced in
the investigation.

In December, Aziz also lost the leadership of the
party he had founded, the Union for the Republic.

A source close to the prosecutor’s office, who
declined to be named, said that the list of charges against Aziz is long,
including money laundering, embezzlement and obstruction of justice.



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