PORT LOUIS (Reuters) - Mauritius authorities arrested a former finance minister, who is also the president’s son, on Thursday over corruption charges, a move which may assuage public discontent over graft allegations but may also cause political instability.
The arrest of Pravind Jugnauth, a prime minister hopeful, could trigger the resignation of his father and prompt the incumbent premier to call an early general election before he has a chance to clear his name and garner support for his party.
Jugnauth is the second senior official from the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) to be arrested in connection with the purchase of a private hospital.
He was among six MSM ministers to quit the coalition government in July in protest at the arrest of the health minister on charges of inflating a government tender to acquire the hospital.
Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam accused his former ally Jugnauth of treason at the time for leaving office when the Indian Ocean island was struggling to cope with a downturn in its tourism sector -- which accounts for 10 percent of GDP -- due to the euro zone’s economic woes.
“Pravind Jugnauth has been arrested under the Prevention of Corruption Act for conflict of interest,” an official with the Independent Commission Against Corruption told Reuters.
If convicted of the provisional charge levied against him, Jugnauth could face up to 10 years in prison.
Mauritius has long been praised for prudent economic policies and a stable political system but the controversy between senior politicians over corruption allegations has rocked the ruling coalition and angered many.
“This political turmoil will add to the negative sentiment in the country and investors are more and more in a wait and see mode,” said Jocelyn Chan Low, political analyst and professor at the University of Mauritius.
“This is more so as everybody is waiting for the new finance minister to read the 2012 budget on November 4.”
Earlier this month, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of the capital in a rare protest against corruption.
Mauritius President Anerood Jugnauth, who holds a largely ceremonial role, has criticised the anti-corruption committee’s activities and said he would consider resigning if it were in the interests of the country, raising the prospect of an escalation in political turmoil which could jeopardise economic growth.
“A resignation of the president will lead to a political crisis in the country. The MSM will continue to discredit the ICAC which it says is a political weapon in the hand of the prime minister,” Chan Low told Reuters.
“Given the situation the Prime minister can call for early general elections so as not to give sufficient time to Pravind Jugnauth to clear his name,” he said.
MSM’s departure from the government has left the ruling alliance headed by the Labour Party clinging to a slim majority with 36 seats versus 33.
1 = 28.950 Mauritius Rupees)
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