Niger parliament chief, facing baby-trafficking probe, `in Belgium`


Niamey: Niger`s head of parliament, who faces questioning in a probe into international baby-trafficking, has turned up in Belgium, an opposition official said Saturday, confirming a media report.

Hama Amadou, who had already quietly left Niger for neighbouring Burkina Faso, "is now in Brussels," the official said, confirming the report by Radio France Internationale (RFI).

Amadou`s lawyer Souley Oumarou told AFP that he had "not received "this information".

On Thursday he confirmed that his client, leading challenger to President Mahamadou Issoufou ahead of elections in 2016, had fled Niger for Burkina Faso because he felt threatened by the state, and not because of the baby trafficking accusations.

Amadou is suspected of "complicity" in the trafficking of babies born in Nigeria and trafficked into Niger via Benin. 

He has denounced the charges as politically motivated and said they would involve a breach of his parliamentary immunity. 

Mohamed Ben Omar, a member of parliament`s political bureau, which authorised the investigation, earlier said "that for the honour and respectability of our institution, he must make himself available to the judicial authorities".

No request has so far been made to strip Amadou of his immunity from prosecution, he added.

The opposition has denounced the investigation as a breach of parliamentary rules, which do not allow "an office of the National Assembly to deliver a deputy to justice or to have him arrested", said Tidjani Abdoulkadri, of the Democratic and Social Convention party.

Seventeen people, 12 of them women, were arrested in late June for their suspected involvement in a baby-trafficking ring between Nigeria, Benin and Niger. One of Amadou`s wives is among the 17.

Niger`s Agriculture Minister Abdou Labo was also remanded in custody Saturday in the politically charged probe.

The alleged crime involves forging and altering birth certificates to switch the names of mothers.

"The trafficking network is used primarily by couples who are unable to have children," a source close to the case told AFP earlier this year.

"Baby factories" -- private clinics where young girls sell their newborns to couples who are unable to conceive -- are regularly uncovered in Nigeria.

Cases in which mothers give up babies born from rape have been reported at such clinics, but young women facing unwanted pregnancies are more common, according to the Nigerian authorities.

The newborns are sold for several thousand euros -- with boys fetching more than girls. The mothers receive around 150 euros ($200). 

The impoverished country of Niger has the highest birth rate in the world, an average of 7.6 children per woman.

In 2012, Niger police uncovered a fake orphanage where babies were sold on, some for use in black magic rituals.