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Mauritania arrests former president amid corruption probe

Authorities in Mauritania on Wednesday arrested former president Mohammed Ould Abdel Aziz, amid an ongoing investigation into alleged high-level corruption during his time in office.

Abdel Aziz, who stepped down in 2019 after serving two five-year terms, was indicted in March and placed under house arrest in May following a parliamentary investigation into suspected graft during his administration.

Mohameden Ichidou, coordinator of the lawyers for his defence said the ex-president was taken into custody on Tuesday for failing to appear before a judge last week, as he was required to do regularly under the terms of his judicial supervision.

“The cause raised in the report relates to the absence of the former president in front of the judge on Friday and Sunday,’’ said Ichidou.

He said Abdel Aziz had stopped going to see the judge because each time he went he was followed by police and civilians along the road who hassled and threatened him.

The former president could not be reached for comment. He had previously denied the corruption allegations.

A family member confirmed that police appeared at the former president’s home in Nouakchott on Tuesday with a summon from the courthouse.

Abdel Aziz followed them, and the family was later informed he had been arrested, he said.

Abdel Aziz, 64, came to power in Mauritania, a vast desert country of fewer than five million people, in a 2008 coup and was an important ally of Western powers fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region.

He was replaced by a political ally, current president Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, but quickly found that his government’s actions, including deals on offshore oil projects, came under scrutiny by parliament.

Former Prime Minister Ismail Ould Cheikh Sidiya and his entire government resigned amid the parliamentary investigation in 2020.