Nouakchott, Mauritania (AFP):
Mauritania’s ex-president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz went on trial on Wednesday, accused of amassing an illicit personal fortune from his 11-year stay in power.
Aziz, a 66-year-old former general, appeared in a court in Nouakchott among 10 defendants, including former prime ministers, ministers and businessmen, an AFP reporter saw.
They face charges that include abuse of office, influence peddling, money laundering and illicit enrichment.
Proceedings began with a rollcall of the defendants to which Aziz, dressed in a blue grown, rose and raised his hand.
The defendants were placed in a metallic cage-like stand in the courtroom as hundreds of police stood guard outside.
Aziz, a trader’s son who came to power in a bloodless coup, stepped down in 2019 after two terms in which he defused an insurgency.
He was succeeded by his former right-hand man, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, in the first transfer of power between elected leaders in the history of a country marked by military coups and upheaval.
But within month of the handover, allegations emerged of financial misdeeds.
Aziz is suspected of siphoning money from state contracts, amassing a fortune equivalent to more than $72 million.
He has denied the allegations but refused to answer investigators’ questions about the source of his wealth.
He describes himself as the victim of score-settling and argues he has immunity from prosecution under the constitution.
“He completely rejects the accusations against him,” one of his lawyers, Taleb Khayar Ould Med Mouloud, said ahead of the trial.