The president of Niger's National Assembly has fled the country after his immunity was lifted in a baby trafficking scandal that has shaken the country's political class.
Hama Amadou fled for neighboring Burkina Faso on Wednesday, according to a statement on state television, just hours after the parliament said he could be investigated.
His wife Abdou Labo, who is also the country's agriculture minister, and 16 other people have already been arrested over suspected links to a network trafficking babies from neighbouring Nigeria via Benin.
It is with a heavy heart ... but we consider that it's our duty.
Amadou, who was tipped as the leading challenger to the current president, Mahamadou Issoufou, in elections in 2016, has denounced the probe as politically motivated.
Tidjani Abdoulkadri, of the Democratic and Social Convention party, said the investigation was breach of parliamentary rules, which do not allow for parliament to order the arrest of a deputy.
Politicians earlier justified their reasons for supporting the lifting of Amadou's immunity to prosecution.
"We think that for the honour and respectability of our institution, he must make himself available to the judicial authorities," said Mohamed Ben Omar, a member of parliament's political bureau, which authorised the investigation.
"We must not risk breaking the equality of citizens before the law. In the same case, Nigeriens are languishing in prison for months."
"It is with a heavy heart that we have taken this difficult decision, but we consider that it's our duty," added Daouda Mallam Marthe, a vice-president of the National Assembly with the ruling Niger Party for Democracy and Progress.
The alleged crime involves forging and altering birth certificates to switch the names of mothers.
Networks which allow young girls to sell their newborns to couples who are unable to conceive are regularly found in Nigeria.
The babies are sold for several thousands of dollars, with most of the money going to middlemen.