(AFP) – Sep 14, 2009
NIAMEY — Niger opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou, who led criticism of constitutional changes which extend the president's stay in office, said he was charged Monday with committing financial crimes.
"I was charged... I explained to the investigating magistrate that the matter was not really about the misappropriation of funds but rather it was a political affair," said the politician who leads the main opposition party, Niger's Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS).
He added he was not remanded in custody but released on bail.
Issoufou, who headed opposition to a new constitution that was adopted in a controversial August 4 referendum, was charged just several days after police stopped him from taking a flight out of the country.
Strongly criticised in Niger and by the international community, the new constitution allows President Mamadou Tandja to stay in power three more years after his term ends on December 22 and then to seek re-election.
Issoufou is the latest former lawmaker to be accused of financial crimes as part of an investigation.
A Niger judge last week jailed three former lawmakers and a parliament official for embezzlement, local radio stations reported.
At the start of the month, around 30 mainly opposition ex-lawmakers from the country's parliament, which was dissolved by the president in May, were charged over the same affair.
A judicial official said the charges stemmed from an inspection of parliamentary accounts which revealed irregularities, including fake bills and fake expenses claims.
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