DAKAR (Reuters) - The son of Senegal’s former president Abdoulaye Wade was jailed for six years for corruption on Monday, dealing a blow to his hopes of running for office and deepening fault lines in the country’s political landscape.
The court in the capital Dakar, which found Karim Wade guilty of hiding funds in offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and Panama, also fined him 138 billion CFA francs ($228 million).
Raising the political stakes ahead of the verdict - read out as police patrolled the city’s streets in large numbers to counter possible protests - the opposition Senegalese Democratic Party (SDP) chose Wade on Saturday as its candidate for a presidential election that could take place as soon as 2017.
In detention since April 2013, Wade, 46, denied wrongdoing and branded the trial a witch-hunt, something the government denies. He and lawyers boycotted the end of the trial.
Prosecutors had demanded a seven-year prison term and a 250 billion CFA franc fine for Wade, known as the ‘minister for heaven and earth’ during his father’s government as he controlled several ministries.
“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.
Opposition supporters inside the specially created Court for Repression of Illicit Enrichment (CREI) protested loudly after the verdict. “I no longer want to be Senegalese,” shouted one woman. “This verdict is shameful.”
Wade’s father left the court without commenting to the media. His son and his legal team had accused the judge of bias, which Diop had strongly denied.
“The CREI is the armed wing of the government put in place explicitly to execute a political adversary,” Cire-Cledor Ly, one of Wade’s lawyers, told a news conference after the hearing.
They would appeal the verdict before the Supreme Court, he added.
The streets of Dakar were mostly calm immediately after the trial as dozens of PDS supporters gathered in front of Wade’s house in the Point E neighborhood to express their support.
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.
Three of Wade’s co-defendants were sentenced to five-year jail terms and heavy fines on the same charge, while two others were acquitted.
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.
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 Gareth Jones and John Stonestreet