A Mauritanian court has sentenced the country’s former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to five years in prison after finding him guilty of money laundering and self-enrichment, his lawyers said on Tuesday.
Monday’s verdict concludes a rare corruption trial in West Africa and closes a chapter in the long career of a strongman who helped lead two coups before serving two terms as president and becoming a counter-terrorism partner of Western nations, including the US.
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In the landmark 11-month trial, Aziz and other top Mauritanian officials were accused of siphoning money from the country to enrich themselves. It marked a rare instance of an African leader being tried for corruption, although Aziz’s lawyers have long framed the trial as a matter of settling scores between him and current president Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani.
“This is a political verdict whose ultimate goal is to strip the president of his civil rights,” defense attorney Taleb Khyar told The Associated Press.
The two men were longtime allies, but relations soured after Ghazwani replaced Aziz as president in 2019 in the country’s first peaceful transfer of government since independence.
Ghazwani and Aziz argued over Aziz’s efforts to take over a major political party after leaving power. A parliamentary committee then opened a corruption investigation against Aziz and 11 other defendants in 2020. In Monday’s verdict, the court acquitted four former government ministers — including two prime ministers — of the same charges.
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The court ordered the confiscation of Aziz’s ill-gotten wealth. He dismissed several charges, including embezzlement and harming the public interest.