A Nouakchott court on Monday sentenced former Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz to five years' imprisonment, on trial since January 2023 for abusing his power to amass a fortune.
Mr. Aziz had been on trial since January 25, along with ten other personalities, including two former prime ministers, former ministers and businessmen, on charges of "illicit enrichment", "abuse of office", "influence peddling" and "money laundering".
After several days of deliberation behind closed doors, the court found against him only illicit enrichment and money laundering.
The court ordered the confiscation of assets acquired through actions falling under these two qualifications, and disqualified Mr. Aziz from exercising his civil rights.
The former head of state welcomed the ruling without flinching.
Mr. Aziz, 66, becomes one of the few former heads of state in Africa to be convicted of illicit enrichment while in power.
With this conviction, the former president detained since January 24, 2023 after spending several months in detention in 2021, continues his descent into hell under his successor Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, one of his most loyal companions in the past.
Mr. Ghazouani was his partner in the coup that brought him to power in 2008, his former Chief of Staff and his former Minister of Defense.
Mr. Aziz received the heaviest sentence of all the defendants. The court cleared two former prime ministers and two former ministers, and handed down sentences against others, the most severe of which was a two-year suspended sentence and six months' imprisonment.
All the firm prison sentences are covered by pre-trial detention, except for Mr. Aziz, who is the only one called upon to remain in prison.
"The trial we attended is a political trial, it is very political in its verdict too," said one of Mr. Aziz's defense lawyers, Mohameden Ould Icheddou.
"We will of course appeal against this iniquitous verdict", said another of his counsel, Mohamed Moloud Khyar.
Until 2019, Mr. Aziz led this pivotal country between the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa, which was once shaken by coups d'état and jihadist activities but returned to stability under his leadership.
- Ultimate coup de théâtre -
Mr. Aziz prepared Mr. Ghazouani's accession to the presidency and handed over to him following elections in 2019, in the first transition not imposed by force for this country, which has been prone to coups d'état since independence.
At the time of his indictment in March 2021, investigators put a figure of 67 million euros on the wealth and capital that Mr. Aziz, the son of a shopkeeper, had amassed over more than ten years at the top of this vast and poor Sahelian country of 4.5 million inhabitants.
On October 24, prosecutor Ahmed Ould Moustapha called for him to be sentenced to twenty years' imprisonment and for his assets to be confiscated.
Without denying that he was rich, the former president cried foul, claiming that it was a plot to remove him from political life. His successor has always denied any interference.
In his last speech last week, Mr. Aziz denied everything. "All these accusations are erroneous, unjust and part of a plot hatched against me", he said in a long monologue.
After remaining discreet about the source of his fortune, he caused a surprise in the final moments of the trial by implicating his successor. He claimed that, the day after his election in 2019, Mr. Ghazouani had given him two suitcases filled with several million euros.