Former Mauritanian president in court for landmark corruption trial | News

The prosecution of a former leader is unprecedented in Mauritania and extremely rare in Africa.

The trial of former Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has begun, accused of illegal personal enrichment during his 11 years in power.

Aziz, a 66-year-old former general, appeared in court in the capital Nouakchott on Wednesday, along with nine other defendants, including former prime ministers, ministers and businessmen. They face charges that include abuse of office, influence peddling, money laundering and illicit enrichment.

The procedure began with the roll call of the defendant. When his name was called, Aziz, dressed in a blue dress, stood up and raised his hand. The defendants were placed in a metal cage in the courtroom while hundreds of police officers stood guard outside.

Aziz, the son of a merchant who came to power in a bloodless coup, stepped down in 2019 after two terms in office in which he eased the violence of armed groups that had gripped other countries in the Sahel.

He was succeeded by his former right-hand man, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, in the first transfer of power between elected leaders in a country marked by military coups and coups. But within a month of the handover, allegations of financial malfeasance emerged.

Aziz is suspected of extracting money from government contracts or real estate sales and amassing wealth in the amount of more than 72 million dollars.

He denied the charges against him, but refused to answer questions from investigators about the source of his wealth.

He describes himself as a victim of settlement and claims that he is constitutionally immune from prosecution.

“He completely denies the charges against him,” one of his lawyers, Taleb Khayar Ould Med Mouloud, said before the trial.

“A lot of people have reason to hate him, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which he kicked out of the country,” Maloud said.

Lawyers say the trial is likely to last weeks or even months.

Ghazouani, who is also a former general, played a key role in Aziz’s successful strategy against armed groups.

Back in December 2019, Ghazouani described his former boss as “my brother, my friend”.

But the next year, Aziz’s woes began.

A parliamentary investigation into financial affairs during his presidential term was opened. He investigated oil revenues, the sale of state assets, the liquidation of a public food company, and the activities of a Chinese fishing company.

He was expelled from the ruling party, the Alliance for the Republic.

According to local reports, Aziz was arrested ahead of the trial for refusing to report to the police. French broadcaster RFI also reported that his passport was confiscated while he was due to fly from Nouakchott to Paris this month.

The persecution is unprecedented in Mauritania, a large, conservative desert nation that gained independence from France in 1960. The case is also extremely rare in Africa as a whole.

Mauritanians interviewed by the new agency Agence France-Presse said they hoped the trial would set new standards in the fight against bribery in their country.

The nation is ranked a lowly 140 out of 180 in Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index.

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