NOUAKCHOTT, MAURITANIA – Mauritania’s president appointed a new government Sunday, a top official said, after the names of several former ministers appeared in a report on the financial dealings of ex-leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Adama Bocar Soko, the secretary general of Mauritania’s presidency, told reporters in the capital Nouakchott that the move would allow all those named in the report “the time they need to prove their innocence.”
The move comes after President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani announced a government reshuffle and replaced his prime minister on Thursday, for reasons that were not disclosed at the time.
Sunday’s announcement marks the first time Ghazouani’s office has admitted that the reason behind the reshuffle was the controversial report on Aziz.
A nine-member parliamentary committee set up in January was tasked with shedding light on aspects of Aziz’s 2008-19 tenure.
Matters investigated included the handling of oil revenues, the sale of state-owned property in Nouakchott, and the liquidation of a state-owned food company, according to parliamentary officials.
Mauritanian prosecutors said last Wednesday that they had received the committee’s report and would open an inquiry.
Three former ministers and ex-premier Ismail Ould Bedda Ould Cheikh Sidiya were named in the report.
The new government remains substantially similar to the previous one, however, with 18 former ministers reappointed.
Soko also said that the number of ministries had also been reduced to 22, after some were fused.
Mauritanian prosecutors are required by law to open an investigation into Aziz, itself a step toward possible judicial proceedings.
“The investigations will be carried out impartially, in accordance with the legal procedures in force, while taking into account the time generally needed for this kind of inquiry,” a prosecution statement said.
It is not clear when the investigation will begin, however.
Aziz, a former army general, ignored a summons from the parliamentary committee last month to explain the issues at stake, according to a parliamentary official.
MPs in the Saharan nation of some 4.5 million people subsequently adopted a law at the end of July establishing a High Court with jurisdiction to hear cases of “high treason” against former heads of state and government ministers.
The court is due to be set up in the coming months.
A parliamentary official told AFP at the end of July, however, that the decision was “not directed against anyone.”
Such a court had existed in Mauritania before a constitutional reform in 2017, and was dissolved on a legal technicality.
A case against Aziz would be heard at the High Court. But MPs would first have to vote on whether to proceed to trial.
Aziz first came to power in the poor West African state in a military coup in 2008, then won an election in 2009, followed by another in 2014.
Ghazouani, who succeeded Aziz in August 2014, previously served as his chief of staff and minister of defense.