Is the conviction of former Mauritanian president politically motivated?

Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz waits for the arrival of the French President at Nouakchott airport, Mauritania, July 2, 2018. Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters/ File photo

On Monday, a court in Nouakchott sentenced former Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to five years in prison. Aziz had been on trial since January 2023, accused of abuse of power to accumulate wealth. Aziz, along with ten others, including former prime ministers, ministers, and businessmen, faced charges such as illicit enrichment, abuse of office, influence peddling, and money laundering.

The Arguments

Aziz was indicted in March 2021, with investigators estimating his amassed wealth at 67 million euros over more than a decade. During the trial, Aziz claimed that the accusations were part of a plot to remove him from political life. In his final speech, he implicated his successor, alleging that Ghazouani had given him two suitcases filled with millions of euros shortly after the 2019 election.

While Aziz received the heaviest sentence, others, including former prime ministers and ministers, were oddly cleared or received less severe sentences, some of which were covered by pre-trial detention. Aziz is the only one required to remain in prison.

Critics of the trial, including Aziz’s defence lawyers, argue that it is politically motivated. They plan to appeal the verdict, describing it as unjust. Aziz also denied corruption allegations and said the trial is a sham.

The Facts

The court found the former president guilty only of illicit enrichment and money laundering. The ruling included the confiscation of assets acquired through these actions and the disqualification of Aziz from exercising his civil rights.

Until 2019, Aziz played a pivotal role in stabilizing the country, which had a history of coups and jihadist activities. Aziz facilitated Ghazouani’s transition to the presidency in 2019, marking a rare peaceful transfer of power in the country.

Aziz becomes one of the few former African heads of state convicted of illicit enrichment while in power. His imprisonment, which began on January 24, 2023 while on trial, marks a continuation of his downfall under his successor Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, a former ally who was part of the coup that brought Aziz to power in 2008.

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