Former president of Mauritania Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who soon faces trial for suspected corruption was recently prohibited from leaving the country to fly to France for a medical appointment, as part of a plot to detain him so that he is unable to plan another coup in exile, according to experts.
The news of his attempted departure coincides with Mauritanian military in-fighting with some officers plotting against him, while others scrapping among themselves during a political trauma where spoils of war will be easy pickings.
Abdel Aziz, who came to power in a coup in 2008, stepped down in 2019 after two presidential terms and was succeeded by Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, another former general.
Abdel Aziz and 11 other figures from his former regime have been charged with corruption, money laundering and illicit enrichment, all dating from the decade when they ruled the roost; his co- defendants include one of his sons-in-law, two former prime ministers and several ex-ministers and businessmen. As his trial is due to start on January 25, his opponents suspected the medical appointment was only a ruse to escape Mauritanian justice; Abdel Aziz denies this and claims “I am being singled out for ill-treatment by this dishonest system, which is leading the country to disaster.”
Although there is no doubt that Abdel Aziz is in urgent need of medical attention for his various ailments, as he has powerful, long-standing friends in the French establishment, the authorities don’t want him flying the coop, lest he instigates another coup d’etat.
Aziz’ plight is best explained by the factionalism and nepotism that is often part and parcel of military-led governments. When one’s own faction falls from favour in Mauritania or Algeria, court cases like this can quickly ensue, as was the case against the Algerian billionaire Issad Rebrab, arrested in April 2019.
The parliamentary investigation into Abdel Aziz began shortly after he left office in 2021. The probe focused on Mauritania’s oil revenues during his presidency, the privatisation 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 was eventually charged in March 2021. He was placed in custody three months later for allegedly breaching bail and disturbing public order, but was released in January 2022 for health reasons.
Abdel Aziz says he is the victim of score-settling by his military minded rivals and that, in any case, he has immunity from prosecution under the constitution. Cire Cledor Ly, the lawyer for Mauritania’s ex-president agrees. He says with only days to go before the trial begins, the defence is still being denied access to the full case file and that his client might not get a fair hearing because of a “torrent of rights violations”. The lawyer further claims that the authorities “want to humiliate” Abdel Aziz, “to break him,” and this “does not bode well for a fair trial”.
Once the humiliation stage is completed and when Abdel Aziz no longer poses a threat, analysts expect he will be released into French exile to get all the medical help he needs.