Mauritania releases ex-president week after arrest for corruption

Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, questioned by police over suspected embezzlement, has been banned from leaving the capital.

Mauritania''s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, center, attends the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, in Beirut, Lebanon. Mauritanians are going to the polls on Saturday, June 22, 2019, as
Mauritania's former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz was held last week on charges of corruption [File: Bilal Hussein/AP]

Former Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz has been released by police after undergoing week-long questioning over suspected embezzlement, his lawyer said.

“He has not been charged but his passport, which was taken on his arrest, has not been returned,” attorney Taghioullah Aida said on Monday, adding that Aziz has also been banned from leaving the capital, Nouakchott.

Al-Akbar news portal, citing an official source, said the former president has been placed under surveillance by the Economic Crimes Police.

Aziz had gone to the headquarters of the General Directorate for National Security  on August 17 after police went to his home and asked him to cooperate with the investigators.

He was released at around 1:30am (01:30 GMT) on Monday, Aida said.

The interest in Aziz stems from “major suspicions of maladministration and embezzlement of public assets,” a security source told AFP news agency last week.

Aziz, 63, was arrested last week on charges of corruption put forward by a parliamentary committee that has scrutinised his time in power.

The former president initially resisted cooperation with investigators and refused to answer questions. However, he later agreed to cooperate after being pressured by the investigators.

Political tension in Mauritania amid return of former leader

Several former officials suspected of corruption during Aziz’s era had earlier been questioned by the authorities.

According to Sahara Media, those questioned included close confidants of the former president, including the accountant of the Al-Rahma Foundation established by his son.

‘High treason’

Aziz seized power 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 ex-defence minister.

Aziz had been kept at arm’s length by Ghazouani since leaving power.

Little more than four months after he left office, parliament set up a commission of inquiry into his affairs.

Aziz failed to answer a call to testify before the commission in early July.

The MPs then swiftly approved a law to set up a High Court of Justice that would be empowered to try presidents and ministers in cases of “high treason”.

The parliamentary report was formally handed to the prosecutors this month.

It was followed on August 9 by a government reshuffle that turfed out four former ministers whose names surfaced in the investigation, including former Prime Minister Ismail Ould Bedda Ould Cheikh Sidiya.

Among the issues probed by the commission, according to sources in parliament, were the handling of oil revenue, the sale of state property in Nouakchott, the winding up of a publicly owned food supply company, and the activities of a Chinese fishing company called Pully Hong Dong.

New Prime Minister Mohamed Ould Bilal was a minister for several terms under former President Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi, who was deposed in the coup led by Aziz.

Source: News Agencies