Mauritania’s former president speaks out against corruption charges
NOUAKCHOTT --Mauritania’s former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz said Thursday he was being prosecuted over charges of graft but denied fleeing the country.
“All means, material and human, have been deployed to target me arbitrarily,” he said during a news conference.
“The only reason for this is to stop me from getting involved in politics,” he explained in the first public statements since he joined a small opposition party, Ribat National, after being expelled from the ruling Union for the Republic, which he had founded in 2009.
Earlier in March, legal officials said Ould Abdel Aziz must report to police three times a week after being charged with graft.
He must also petition a judge to be able to leave the capital Nouakchott, one official who requested anonymity said, due to a case involving suspected corruption during Aziz’s decade-long rule in the vast Saharan nation.
Lashing out at the decision, Ould Abdel Aziz said, “they shouldn’t be thinking that I will crumble. I won’t go to Senegal or Mali or Morocco or Algeria, to any other country, or France.”
The former president named no one in particular but said he has rivals who were carrying out a “massive campaign of denigration and judicial prosecution that violates the country’s constitution.”
“I will stand up and shoulder my responsibilities and I’m willing to go to prison for that,” he said.
Ten other senior figures have been charged in March with corruption, capping a year-long investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing.
Ould Abdel Aziz, one of his sons-in-law, two former prime ministers, five former government ministers and four businessmen have been placed under judicial supervision.
Ould Abdel 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 former 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.
“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.
The former general has so far refused to answer questions from investigators, claiming constitutional immunity granted to former presidents.
A state prosecutor involved with the investigation stated that cash and assets, including companies, apartments and vehicles, worth the equivalent of about €96 million ($115 million) had already been seized as part of the investigation.
Of that sum, the equivalent of about €67 million ($80 million) belonged to one of the suspects, whom the prosecutor did not name.