[JURIST] The government of Niger announced on Wednesday that it has established a new agency [press release, in French] tasked with combating corruption. The High Authority to Combat Corruption will be comprised of government administration and private sector representatives who will monitor corruption levels, conduct studies and investigations into corrupt behavior and implement measures aiming to deter corruption. The government justified the creation of the agency, arguing that corruption hinders economic growth and social well-being, and increases social inequality and poverty levels. The government also noted that the agency will improve Niger's compliance with the UN Convention Against Corruption [text, PDF; UNODC backgrounder].
Corruption allegations have plagued Niger in recent years. In May, an appeals court in Niger's capital Niamey ordered the release [JURIST report] of former president Mamadou Tandja [BBC profile] after dropping all corruption charges against the ousted leader who has been in custody for 14 months following a military coup [JURIST report] in February 2010. The military junta charged Tandja with corruption [Reuters report] following his removal, based on a junta investigation that found USD $128 million was stolen during Tandja's 10-year presidency. In September 2009, members of Nigerien opposition parties said that police had detained 30 former opposition lawmakers allegedly at the behest of Tandja. The 30 former members of parliament were arrested on charges of embezzlement [JURIST report], but were likely being targeted for their dissidence, as they refused to recognize Tandja's expansion of powers. In February of last year, the United Front for the Safeguard of Democratic Assets (Fusad), a Nigerien rights group, pushed for the prosecution [JURIST report] of Tandja on treason charges and corruption violating the constitution shortly after the coup.