FILE - In this Jan. 20, 2019, file photo, Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, center, attends the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit, in Beirut, Lebanon. A Mauritanian court handed down a five-year sentence to Aziz finding him guilty of money laundering and self-enrichment, his attorneys told The Associated Press on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein, File)
BY AHMED MOHAMED AND SAM METZ
NOUAKCHOTT, MAURITANIA (AP) — A Mauritanian court handed down a five-year prison sentence to the country’s former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz after finding him guilty of money laundering and self-enrichment, his attorneys said Tuesday.
The Monday verdict wraps up a rare corruption trial in west Africa and closes a chapter in the long trajectory of a strongman who helped lead two coups before serving two terms as president and becoming a counterterrorism partner to Western nations including the U.S.
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 in which an African leader was tried for corruption, though Aziz’s lawyers long framed the trial as a matter of score-settling between him and current President Mohamed Ould Cheikh Ghazouani.
“This is a political verdict whose ultimate objective is to deprive the president of civic rights,” defense lawyer Taleb Khyar told The Associated Press.
The two men were long allies, but their relations soured after Ghazouani replaced Aziz as president in 2019 in the country’s first peaceful transfer of government since independence.
Ghazouani and Aziz fought over Aziz’s attempts to take over a major political party after leaving office. A parliamentary commission subsequently opened a corruption inquiry against Aziz and 11 other defendants in 2020. In Monday’s verdict, the court cleared four former government ministers — including two prime ministers — of the same charges.
The court ordered the confiscation of Aziz’s illegally acquired property. It dropped several charges, including embezzlement and harm to the public good.
Metz reported from Rabat, Morocco.