Mauritania: Former President's Trial Gets to the Heart of Corruption Cases

Room for discussion

Mauritania: Former President's Trial Gets to the Heart of Corruption Cases

Room for discussion. After more than two weeks of interruption due to referral to the Constitutional Council, the trial of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz entered since April 6 at the heart of the corruption case between the public prosecutor and the former president. With ten other defendants who all held high administrative and political positions in the 2010s - two former prime ministers are also in the dock - the former Mauritanian head of state from 2008 to 2019 must answer for serious crimes. financial. He is notably prosecuted for "illicit enrichment", "abuse of functions", "influence peddling", "money laundering".

Opened on January 25, the trial was marked by numerous suspensions and several hearing incidents. The debates had until then essentially focused on the jurisdiction of the court to try Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz as well as whether or not to keep the main accused in detention. It is now in a new phase and offers a dive into the heart of the corruption cases of the former Mauritanian regime, which looks like a settling of accounts.

At the helm of the Nouakchott court, businessman Brahim Ould Ghadda explained Monday, April 10 to Oumar Ould Mohamed Lemine, president of the court, how the former president had given him the sum of 7.1 billion old ouguiyas (18.7 million euros) on deposit from 2009. Part of this amount would have been used for the construction of a private clinic in the Mauritanian capital. A little before him, retired general Ahmed Ould Beckrine claimed to have received the order from Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to give up part of the enclosure of the Nouakchott police academy in order to transform it into a shopping center.

Abuse of power and embezzlement

"The former president called me on the phone and asked me to facilitate the visit of a person from the Ministry of Housing accompanied by some private individuals, in order to take a look at part of the school police for sale,” said Mr. Ould Békrine, former Director General of National Security. Thursday, April 6, it was the Minister of National Education at the time of the facts who told the bar the sale by the State of several buildings housing primary schools.

The appearance of the former Mauritanian president, who pleads not guilty, follows a long financial investigation carried out by a parliamentary commission at the request of the National Assembly. This was the subject of an eight hundred page report in which Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz appears as the decision maker of a system combining abuse of power and embezzlement, even if he is never mentioned by name.

"In addition to the multiple irregularities noted in public procurement, there have also been violations of texts relating to the management of the public domain of the State, concludes the commission's report. The analysis focused on several land transfer projects by the State to third parties, in particular with regard to basic schools in Nouakchott. Irregularities noted following investigations carried out by the commission were thus noted concerning the procedures not provided for by the texts and used to proceed with the transfer of the land as well as concerning the administrative conditions for leaving the plots of the public domain. According to the parliamentary commission of inquiry, the total amount of property and assets "fraudulently dissipated" is estimated at 96 million euros.

"Friends of Forty Years"

The trial, which will resume on April 18, after the Eid-el-Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan, will it take on the appearance of a great unpacking on the Aziz decade? "The testimonies heard are not clear and therefore do not prove anything," replied Lucas Vincent, one of Mr. Aziz's lawyers. That of Mr. Ould Gadda is even exculpatory since it indicates that his group was not favored during the presidency of my client. »

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, 66, cries "conspiracy". He also invokes Article 93 of the Constitution which, according to him, prohibits trying a president for acts committed in the exercise of his functions. “The depositions of a witness only have value if they are subject to an adversarial debate, adds Ciré Cledor Ly, another lawyer for the former president. This trial is just a legal farce. »

According to the defense, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is the victim of a political settling of scores hatched by Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, his successor to the Mauritanian presidency from August 2019. In a country which has experienced numerous coups, the two men, "friends of forty years" according to their words, would have first forged links in the success of two putschs then, when the current president was chief of staff and minister of defense of Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

Their friendship began to crack when the latter tried in vain to get his hands on the ruling party, the Union for the Republic (UPR), after his departure from the presidency. It was shattered when rumors of a coup plotted by Mr. Aziz circulated the sandy streets of Nouakchott a few months later. "This trial is obviously political," says Lucas Vincent. The judicial process, in a jurisdiction where magistrates are specially appointed, began just after a rally by Mr. Aziz during which he had met with immense popular success. »