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Niger Court Orders Release of Former President Tandja

Niger's Former President Mamadou Tandja (C), surrounded by bodyguards in Niamey, (File)

Niger's court of appeals has cleared ousted President Mamadou Tandja of corruption charges and ordered his release from jail. The court freed the former president who has been held since being ousted by a military coup in February of last year.

In January, Tandja was transferred from house arrest to prison and charged with embezzling millions of dollars of public funds and ignoring a court order to cancel a 2009 constitutional referendum, aimed at expanding his power and extending his mandate.

The appeals court ruled Tuesday in the capital, Niamey. Tandja's lawyers said all charges had been dropped and he would be released later that day.

Tandja's lawyer, Souley Oumarou, says the court completely threw out the investigation by the first judge and declared the arrest warrant invalid, which he says means that Tandja has been held illegally since last year's military coup.

Oumarou said that the charges were politically motivated.

He says with elections being held earlier this year, authorities started this semblance of a legal proceeding to keep the former president in prison and hurt his political party. He says the court overturned that investigation as being done in a hasty and poor manner that did not respect legal norms.

After 14 months in power, coup leaders officially returned Niger to civilian rule this April following the inauguration of newly elected president, Mahamadou Issoufou.