DAKAR (Reuters) - A special court in Senegal sentenced the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade on Monday to six years in prison for corruption and ordered him to pay a 138 billion CFA franc ($228 million) fine, dashing his hopes of competing in elections due in 2017.
Karim Wade, in detention since April 2013, was chosen by the main opposition party, the Senegalese Democratic Party (SDP), as its presidential candidate on Saturday, raising the stakes ahead of the verdict. He denies any wrongdoing.
“The crime of illicit enrichment being proven, Karim Wade: six years in prison and a fine of 138 billion CFA francs,” judge Henri Gregoire Diop said in the ruling, adding that Wade had hidden away funds in offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and Panama.
Opposition supporters inside the courtroom protested loudly after the verdict. “I no longer want to be Senegalese,” shouted one woman. “This verdict is shameful.”
Karim, 46, did not attend the final session of the trial and his father Abdoulaye Wade left without making any comment to the media. Karim and his lawyers have boycotted the end of the trial after accusing judge Diop of bias, something he strongly denies.
The streets of Dakar were calm immediately after the trial amid a heavy police presence to counter possible protests.
Karim Wade, who staged a four-day hunger strike in January to protest over the conditions of his detention, has repeatedly said he is the victim of a political witch hunt, something the government strongly denies.
The government has said the trial signals the end of impunity for corruption in Senegal, long regarded as a bulwark of democracy in a turbulent region.
“This is a historic decision not only for Senegal but also for the whole of Africa and all those who defend responsibility, citizenship and good governance,” said Simon Ndiaye, one of the state’s lawyers.
President Macky Sall, who ended Abdoulaye Wade’s 12-year rule in a hotly contested election in 2012, said last week his government would not tolerate any attempt to destabilize the West African country following the court ruling.
Prosecutors had demanded a seven-year prison term and a 250 million CFA franc ($413,784) fine for Karim Wade, who was known as the ‘minister for heaven and earth’ during his father’s government as he controlled several key ministries.
The next presidential election could come as early as 2017 if Sall wins approval in a referendum due next year on reducing the presidential term to five years from seven.
Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Emma Farge and Gareth Jones