, NIAMEY, Jan 3 – The offices of Niger’s justice ministry in Niamey were ravaged by a serious fire, which broke out in the early hours of the morning and was officially said to be of “criminal origin.”
The flames completely destroyed the first floor of the building, including the office of the minister and those of his closest aides, an AFP correspondent saw. Firemen took several hours to extinguish the flames.
“The fire began shortly after 4:00 am (0300 GMT). All the offices in the building were burned, including that of the minister, reduced to ashes,” said Ousmane Toudou, the ministry spokesman. “Everything burned, the archives and the cases under way, everything.”
“If this fire is linked to the actions we are undertaking to clean up (the justice system), I think it was a waste of effort,” Justice Minister Marou Amadou, who is also government spokesman, told journalists.
Amadou at first declined to speculate on the cause of the fire, accidental or otherwise, while waiting for the outcome of a police inquiry that has got under way.
But he declared later on public television that “it is a blaze of criminal origin,” adding: “People attacked a very strong symbol of the state and the state will employ all means to seek and find those who were behind what happened.”
The government of President Mahamadou Issoufou, in power since 2011, has made much of its determination to fight corruption, notably among magistrates.
In August last year, the justice ministry set up a hotline number for callers wishing to report alleged cases of corruption.
At the end of December, the government asked that parliamentary immunity be lifted on eight lawmakers suspected of involvement in corruption and embezzlement.