Former Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz pleaded not guilty to corruption charges when he appeared for questioning Thursday in a court in the capital Nouakchott, reports Anadolu Agency.
Aziz, 66, faces multiple charges including illicit enrichment, abuse of office, influence peddling and money laundering along with nine other defendants including two former prime ministers, former ministers and businessmen.
Aziz “denied all the charges” and compared Mauritania’s situation when he assumed office with that when he left, insisting that he was never involved in any kind of “squandering of public funds,” according to Sahara Media.
Aziz is alleged to have syphoned money from state contracts and the sale of real estate, from which he amassed a fortune equivalent to more than $72 million.
But in court, he claimed to have reduced the country’s internal debt during his tenure to almost half by the time he left, the media report said.
The trial opened on January 25, but initially, the court heard arguments about its jurisdiction and whether to keep the suspects in detention.
In February, the court announced that it would rule on a plea challenging its jurisdiction after the end of the proceedings.
Thursday’s hearing resumed two weeks after it was suspended following the withdrawal of the defense team, which protested the “court’s handling of formal arguments.”
The court had given Aziz until April 6 to choose between three options: persuade the defense team to return, appoint a new one, or the court will select lawyers for him.
The defense team decided to return to the trial.
When he was arrested in January, Aziz claimed he was “the victim of a plot” hatched by former opponents seeking to settle personal scores.
Dismissing the charges as “baseless,” he cited a constitutional provision which he said gives former presidents immunity for acts committed in office.
Aziz assumed office following a 2008 coup. He was elected the following year and ruled the country for two terms until 2019.
But allegations of financial crimes emerged within a month after handing over power to his former right-hand man, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani.
The trial emanated from a parliamentary investigation into financial dealings during Aziz’s presidency which looked into oil revenues, sales of state assets, activities of a Chinese fishing company and the closing of a public company in charge of food supplies.