On the eve of his trial for abuse of authority and accumulating an illegal fortune, police detained former president of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Tuesday, according to a lawyer.
Defence attorneys said that after being asked to report to police, the 66-year-old refused. In the nation’s capital Nouakchott, the police “came to hunt for him at home” with a warrant in hand. The attorneys said that he was apprehended without incident.
Abdel Aziz spent the night in detention before the unusual prosecution of a former African head of state was set to begin on Wednesday morning.
According to a security source, more members of his former government who are accused of corruption, money laundering, and unlawful enrichment were also detained.
The former general held office for 11 years after a coup. After serving two terms as president and putting an end to a terrorist insurgency that threatened the conservative West African state, he resigned in 2019.
He was followed by Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, his former right-hand man, in the nation’s first transfer of power between elected leaders in a time of military coups and instability.
A parliamentary probe into financial transactions during Abdel Aziz’s presidency was launched in 2020.
It probed into oil revenues, sales of state property, the closure of a publicly traded food supply company, and the operations of a Chinese fishing firm.
Then accusations were levelled at Abdel Aziz and 11 other people, including one of his son-in-laws, two former prime ministers, and a number of ex-ministers and businessmen.
The former president is thought to have accumulated a fortune worth more than $72 million. He denounces a political plot and has declined to comment on the origin of his money.
Abdel Aziz wrote in a note released by lawyers on Tuesday that he will appear in court “to defend his honour” against “extravagant and fallacious accusations”. He claims immunity from prosecution under the constitution.
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