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Mali Ex-Officials Deny Fraud Charges

FILE: One of the three Mali ex-ministers charged, former Defense Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly. Taken 12.14.2018

Three Malian ex-ministers named in international arrest warrants for alleged fraud have denied any guilt and say they are willing to clear their names.

Mali's supreme court last week issued warrants against former finance ministers Boubou Cisse and Mamadou Igor Diarra and ex-defence minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly.

The former director of the state-owned Malian Solidarity Bank (BMS), Babaly Bah, is also cited in a warrant.

All four are accused of "forgery" and mismanagement of public assets in a case that a judicial source says involves a $60-million order in 2015 from South African firm Paramount for armored vehicles, part of which was not delivered.

The alleged scam occurred under the country's last elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. He died in January after being toppled in a coup in August 2020.

In a statement received by AFP on Wednesday, Diarra, now a CEO with a regional bank owned by Moroccan group Bank of Africa BMCE, said he had simply had an "administrative role" in processing the purchase request from the defense ministry.

He added that when he was last in Mali in March, he had "spontaneously" gone to the authorities to offer any details on any cases in which he might have information.

Cisse, who became finance minister in 2016 and prime minister in 2019, said in a statement on Monday that he was not involved in the deal as he was head of the mining ministry at the time.

He said he had "never sought to shirk responsibility or avoid the duty of an individual before the law, in so far as the justice in our country remains independent and impartial."

Coulibaly, who was defense minister between 2015 and 2016, said in a statement on Monday that he first heard about the accusations on television.

He said he had only ever acted to "ensure the best operational preparedness of our armed forces."

He vowed to "respond promptly" if Malian investigators formally requested information from him.

Last year, authorities detained former premier Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga over the allegedly fraudulent purchase of a presidential plane in 2014.

Maiga died this March while in custody, despite warnings from his family that his health was deteriorating.

Mali is struggling with a long jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

It is also in the grip of political upheaval following the military coup in August 2020, and another in May 2021.