BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Burundi, one of Africa’s most corrupt countries, has arrested a prominent anti-graft activist after he alleged judges were forced to pay bribes before being appointed, the campaigner’s lawyer said on Wednesday.
Faustin Ndikumana, head of the Burundi advocacy group PARCEM, told a news conference last week he had written to Justice Minister Pascal Barandagiye alleging that newly-appointed judges had told his organisation they were asked to pay between $1,000 and $1,500 in return for employment.
The Justice Ministry did not confirm whether Ndikumana had been arrested for defaming Barandagiye as his lawyer suggested on Wednesday.
“The reason of his arrest is nonsense,” his lawyer, Lambert Nsabimana, told Reuters. “I have tried to explain to the prosecutor that my client has neither defamed nor pointed the finger at the justice minister.”
Transparency International ranked Burundi as east Africa’s most corrupt country for the second year in a row late last year.
Ndikumana was transferred to the main jail in the capital Bujumbura late on Tuesday. Authorities have yet to formally charge him, nor has a trial date been set. He is expected to appear before a judge in the next 15 days.
Foreign businesses cite graft as a major hurdle to investing in east Africa and analysts say corruption has stifled Burundi’s economy, which depends on international donors for about half of its budget.
Belgium, the country’s former colonial master, said last year the only way for Burundi to regain donors’ trust was to recognise the existence of corruption and take action.
Burundian human rights organisation APRODH said anti-corruption activist Ernest Manirumva was killed in 2009 while investigating weapons trafficking between police and Rwandan Hutu rebels in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.