Police arrested Mauritania’s former president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on Tuesday on the eve of his trial for abuse of power and amassing an illicit fortune, a lawyer said.

The 66-year-old was first told to report to police, but refused, defence lawyers said.

The police “came to look for him at home” in the capital Nouakchott, armed with a warrant. He was arrested without incident, the lawyers said.

The rare prosecution of a former African head of state was due to open on Wednesday morning, with Abdel Aziz spending the night in custody.

Several other figures from his former regime, also facing charges of corruption, money laundering and illicit enrichment, were also arrested, a security source said.

The ex-general came to power in a coup and spent 11 years at the helm. He stepped down in 2019 after two presidential terms in which he defused a jihadist insurgency threatening the conservative West African state.

He was succeeded by his former right-hand man, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani in the first transfer of power between elected leaders in the history of a country marked by military coups and upheaval.

In 2020, a parliamentary investigation was opened into financial dealings under Abdel Aziz’s presidency