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Ould Abdel Aziz's trial for grand corruption sets precedent 

Former President has ducked questions about the origins of his US$70 million personal fortune

The groundbreaking trial of ex-President and coup leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz opened in Nouakchott on 6 April with his pleading not guilty to charges of illicit enrichment in a case that will touch on oil trading, land deals and a Chinese fishing company.

The case against Abdel Aziz, which could embarrass some of his foreign business and diplomatic associates, was launched in 2020 when a parliamentary investigation was opened into financial dealings under his presidency (AC Vol 60 No 13, Ghazouani’s modest mandate). He had left office a year earlier after handing over control of the ruling Union pour la République (UPR), which he founded, to his handpicked successor and current President Mohamed Ould Cheikh el Ghazouani. 

At that stage, General Ghazouani, who had run Mauritania's anti-jihadist campaign for the previous decade, referred to Abdel Aziz as 'my brother, my friend.'

Those sentiments changed once Ghazouani was established in office. The investigation, upon which the charges are based, focused on oil revenues, sales of state assets, the winding up of a public company in charge of food supplies and the operations of a Chinese fishing company, Poly Hong Dong.

Abdel Aziz faces charges of abuse of office, influence peddling, illicit enrichment and money laundering.

He has responded to the charges with anger, contempt and sense of betrayal, claiming immunity from prosecution, insisting there are no constitutional means for trying former presidents.

The court announced in February that it would not make a ruling on challenges to its jurisdiction until the end of the case.

Abdel Aziz has refused to answer questions about the source of his wealth. Initially, he was expected to be allowed to leave the country but after several stints in custody, it seems probable his case will run its course. That doesn't preclude some sort of deal should he be convicted (AC Vol 61 No 17, Don't you know who I am?).

Abdel Aziz wrote in a note released by lawyers on 4 April that he would appear in court 'to defend his honour' against 'extravagant and fallacious accusations'.

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