Niamey – Niger’s communications minister has been detained in a high-profile embezzlement case dating from when he ran a state corporation, a judicial source said on Wednesday.
Mahamadou Zada, who was appointed in April last year by President Mohamed Bazoum, “has been interviewed by a magistrate in the Niamey economic and financial department,” the source said.
He ordered Zada to be held in custody in Kollo, about 50km (30 miles) south of the capital, the source said.
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Investigators are probing the loss of three billion CFA francs ($5.8 million, 4.5 million euros) from Sopamin, a corporation which manages state holdings in the mining sector, that occurred while Zada was its chairman between 2013 and 2021, the source said.
Local media say the affair emerged last year when Taanadi, a company that specialises in micro-lending, said it could find no trace in its accounts of three billion CFA francs that Sopamin said had been transferred there.
A decade ago, Sopamin became embroiled in a scandal involving international uranium trade organised by France’s Areva group, since renamed Orano.
Bazoum was elected last year after a campaign in which he made the fight against corruption one of his core pledges.
On April 10, Bazoum said on Twitter that “about 30 senior state officials, guilty of embezzlement or misappropriation, are currently languishing in prison and will remain there for a long time”.
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In 2020, Niger was shocked by a military procurement fraud in which overbilling and non-delivery of promised equipment cost the cash-strapped country 39.4 billion CFA francs.
Investigators say a trial is being readied in this affair, although the date has yet to be set.
The poorest country in the world according to the benchmark of the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), the landlocked Sahel state is struggling with a reputation for corruption and volatility.
On April 11, a government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said former interior minister Ousmane Cisse was being detained “for his part in two attempted coups, one foiled in March 2021 and another just recently, in March 2022”.
The government previously said a coup was averted in March 2021 just ahead of Bazoum’s inauguration, but has not referred to any second coup attempt.
Picture: Twitter / @Cyril1sablassou