Parliament chief flees Niger to avoid questioning in baby-trafficking probe
MPs demand Hama Amadou, suspected of complicity in newborns trade, return to Niger
Niger's head of parliament, who faces questioning in a probe into international baby trafficking, has "discreetly" left the country for Burkina Faso, an opposition official said.
Hama Amadou is suspected of "complicity" in the trafficking of babies born in Nigeria and trafficked into Niger via Benin.
But Amadou, who is considered the leading challenger to President Mahamadou Issoufou ahead of elections in 2016, has denounced the charges as politically motivated and said they would involve a breach of his parliamentary immunity.
"I can tell you that he discreetly left the country and is currently in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, whose authorities have confirmed his presence," a Nigerien opposition figure said, confirming local media reports.
Officials of the ruling party could not be reached for comment.
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".
"We must not risk breaking the equality of citizens before the law. In the same case, Nigeriens are languishing in prison for months," said the MP, who is close to the ruling party.
No request had 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.
Amadou was earlier reported to be planning to appeal to the Constitutional Court to look into the legality of the order.
Seventeen people, 12 of them women and including one of Amadou's wives, were arrested in late June for their suspected involvement in a baby-trafficking ring between Nigeria, Benin and Niger. At the weekend, Niger's agriculture minister was also remanded in custody over the case.
"The trafficking network is used primarily by couples who are unable to have children," a source close to the case said 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. The newborns are sold for several thousand euros - with boys fetching more than girls. The mothers receive around €150 (HK$1,500).