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Abdel Aziz goes to jail

The trial of former putschist turned president may hold lessons for a new generation of coup-makers

The sentencing of Mauritania's former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to five years in jail for corruption is partly about putschists falling out – a storyline which looks likely to play out in the juntas of neighbouring Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Abdel Aziz denies all charges, claiming a political conspiracy against him. The judge in Noakchott found Abdel Aziz guilty of illicit enrichment and money laundering, but dismissed several other charges including abuse of office (Dispatches, 11/4/23, Ould Abdel Aziz's trial for grand corruption sets precedent).

State prosecutors had been seeking a 20-year jail term for Abdel Aziz. Yet the sanctions against him are far harsher than those handed to the other 10 defendants, who included two former Prime Ministers, of whom only one received a custodial sentence of six months. Nor does there appear to be any prospect of a political deal that could keep the former President out of prison.

The court also ordered the confiscation of assets illicitly acquired by the former President.

Abdel Aziz chose Mohamed Ould Cheikh el Ghazouani as his successor because of the close ties between the two men dating back to the coup in 2008. Ghazouani was Abdel Aziz's right hand man during the seizure of power, and was then appointed defence minister.

Their junta faced sanctions from both the African Union and the European Union, prompting Abdel Aziz to negotiate a transition to civil, including elections, which he won.

Once he legitimised the junta, Abdel Aziz became one of he EU's most trusted interlocutors on regional security. His conviction for corruption raises further questions about how the EU operates in West Africa after a series of reverses this year.

The backlash in Mauritania against Abdel Aziz began after a parliamentary investigation was opened into financial dealings during his presidency and he was expelled by the ruling Union pour la République (AC Vol 60 No 13, Ghazouani’s modest mandate).

It delved into oil revenues, sales of state assets, the winding-up of a public company in charge of food supplies and the activities of a Chinese fishing company.

Abdel Aziz claimed that after he handed over power in the 2019 elections Ghazouani had given him two suitcases filled with several million euros. 

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