Mauritius President agrees to step down on March 23 over shopping expenses scandal

Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will leave office on March 23.
Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim will leave office on March 23.PHOTO: AFP

PORT LOUIS, MAURITIUS (BLOOMBERG) - Mauritian President Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, the island nation's first woman head of state, quit in the wake of a scandal over shopping expenses that led to a breakdown in her relationship with the prime minister.

"In the supreme interest of the country and that of the Mauritian population, she prefers to go," Ms Gurib-Fakim's lawyer Yusuf Mohamed said in comments broadcast by Port Louis-based Radio Plus. "She does not want to see the population and economy suffer."

Ms Gurib-Fakim will leave office on March 23, ending a week-long crisis at the helm of the 461-billion rupee ($18.45 billion) economy that saw Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth on March 15 threaten to force the president out of office if she didn't quit.

It also follows only a day after Mr Jugnauth said that a commission of inquiry appointed by the president into how her bank records were leaked and into an Angolan businessman and his dealings with regulators is in violation of the Constitution.

Tensions reached boiling point after Ms Gurib-Fakim denied telling the prime minister she will resign for using a credit card that had been issued by the London-based Planet Earth Institute in 2016.

Ms Gurib-Fakim has said she "inadvertently" used the card, which was identical to a bank card she already had.

After informing the London-based charity she'd used their card for about US$27,000 of "out-of-pocket expenses", she said she immediately reimbursed the institute in addition to other expenses incurred on a PEI trip.

Radio Plus reported on Friday that had she spent about 2.2 million rupees over 63 transactions.

The presidency is more of a ceremonial post in Mauritius, which 50 years ago gained independence from Britain, with most of the political power resting with the prime minister.

"In her wisdom, the president has decided to resign and prevent the constitutional crisis," Mr Mohamed told the private radio station.

Ms Gurib-Fakim, who took the post in June 2015, was not pressured to leave office, he said.

Ms Gurib-Fakim's resignation adds to a list of top-ranking government officials on the Indian Ocean island nation who have stepped down for alleged corruption and improper behaviour.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Showkutally Soodhun left office in November for allegedly making inappropriate comments.

In September, Attorney General Ravi Yerrigadoo stepped down to allow an investigation into allegations of money-laundering.