December 28, 2010 / 3:19 PM / 10 years ago

At least $128 mln stolen from Niger under Tandja-auditor

* Money stolen through bloated or fake government contracts

* Tandja likely to be put on trial, junta has said

* Elections scheduled for Jan. 31

By Abdoulaye Massalatchi

NIAMEY, Dec 28 (Reuters) - At least 64 billion CFA francs ($128 million) were stolen from Niger’s state coffers under the government of former President Mamadou Tandja, a spokesman for the state auditor’s office said.

Niger’s junta launched an investigation into potential graft during Tandja’s decade of rule after he was toppled and detained in a military coup in February.

The corruption probe has uncovered hundreds of cases of fraud through bloated government contracts and fake orders with more than 2,000 people implicated, including Tandja, spokesman Gabriel Martin said late on Monday on state radio.

“Some of these people have come forward to admit their responsibility, and others have not. The cases have been forwarded to the appropriate authorities,” he said.

Martin added that Tandja was involved in many of the cases. The junta has said he is likely to be prosecuted.

Tandja cannot respond to the allegations as he has been under house arrest in the capital Niamey since the coup.

Niger, a top supplier of uranium to France’s nuclear power industry, is among the world’s poorest countries with the average person living on just over $1 per day.

It was not immediately clear if companies operating in Niger were implicated in any of the graft cases.

Niger’s junta has promised a “clean up” before handing power back to civilians next year. A first round of elections is scheduled for Jan. 31, with a run-off in March.

Many Nigeriens and foreign powers welcomed Tandja’s overthrow. President since 1999, he orchestrated a constitutional rejig last year to extend his time in office, drawing widespread condemnation. (Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by David Stamp)

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