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Mauritanian ex-president to undergo regular police checks after graft charge

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(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 20, 2018 Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz poses during a photo session during the “Festival des villes anciennes” (Ancient cities Festival) in Oualata, southeastern Mauritania. – A state prosecutor in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott on March 11, 2021 requested corruption charges against former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, and about ten other senior figures, his office said. (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON / AFP)

Mauritania’s ex-president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz must report to police three times per week after being charged with graft, legal officials said Friday.

He must also petition a judge to be able to leave the capital Nouakchott, one official who requested anonymity said, due to a case involving suspected corruption during Aziz’s decade-long rule in the vast Saharan nation.

Taleb Khyar Ould Mohamed Mouloud, one of the former president’s lawyers, said that the move was unconstitutional and threatened “the future of democracy and social peace in the country”.

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The restrictions imposed on Aziz came after a judge charged him and about ten other senior figures with corruption on Thursday, capping a year-long investigation into alleged financial wrongdoing.

The judge also placed Aziz, one of his sons-in-law, two former prime ministers, five former government ministers and four businessmen under judicial supervision.

Aziz, 64, launched a military coup 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.

Ghazouani has kept Aziz at arm’s length since he came to power, however.

Last year, Mauritania’s parliament established a commission to investigate suspected embezzlement under Aziz.

Among other issues, the inquiry probed the handling of oil revenue, the sale of state property, the winding up of a publicly owned food-supply company and the activities of a Chinese fishing firm.

Police then detained Aziz in August for questioning in the case, before stripping him of his passport.

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“I am a victim of a settling of old scores, but I am going to defend myself,” Aziz said after his release from detention in August.

The former general has so far refused to answer questions from investigators, claiming constitutional immunity granted to ex-presidents.

On Thursday, Aziz supporters clustered around his home in the capital as he was returning from the judge, toting placards demanding justice for the former president.

A state prosecutor involved with the investigation stated this week that cash and assets — including companies, apartments and vehicles — worth the equivalent of about 96 million euros ($115 million) had already been seized as part of the investigation.

Of that sum, the equivalent of about 67 million euros ($80 million) belonged to one of the suspects, who the prosecutor did not name.

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