Son of Senegal ex-president sentenced to six years for graft

Malick Ba
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File photo shows Karim Wade, son of Senegal's former President Abdoulaye Wade, arriving at a court in Dakar on July 31, 2014 for the start of his trial for charges of illicit enrichment

File photo shows Karim Wade, son of Senegal's former President Abdoulaye Wade, arriving at a court in Dakar on July 31, 2014 for the start of his trial for charges of illicit enrichment (AFP Photo/)

Dakar (AFP) - Karim Wade, the son of former Senegal president Abdoulaye Wade bidding to follow his father to the top office, was sentenced to six years in prison on Monday in a deeply divisive graft case.

The flamboyant former minister was found guilty of "illicit enrichment" and fined the equivalent of more than 210 million euros ($230 million). His assets are also to be confiscated.

He was however cleared of the main corruption charge -- initially said to involve one billion euros but later whittled down to 105 million euros -- by a special anti-corruption court in Dakar.

The ruling came just two days after the opposition Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS) chose the 46-year-old as its candidate for the country's next presidential election, a date for which has yet to be set.

Sympathisers have long condemned the corruption case against the younger Wade as politically motivated and when the verdict was read out it in court it was met with cries of dismay from dozens of opposition supporters, with some breaking down in tears.

Outside the courtroom, supporters overturned garbage bins and set fire to a tyre before being dispersed by police firing tear gas.

"This is a political sentencing. They have for a long time been trying to stop our candidate from contesting the presidential election," said Oumar Sarr, a senior official from Wade's party.

But government spokesman Oumar Youm said the court's decision must be respected. "Justice has spoken," he told the private RFM radio.

- Tempers frayed -

With tempers running high, Justice Minister Sidiki Kaba later told reporters that the conviction would not affect Wade's civic rights, allowing him to pursue his presidential bid.

The minister added that the judges had reached their decision independently and the case was not part of a "political plan to bring down an adversary".

Wade's lawyer Mohamed Seydou Diagne told AFP he would appeal to the Supreme Court in a bid to have the ruling annulled.

Wade himself was not present in court but his father, who will soon turn 89, showed up for the verdict. He dismissed the court's ruling as a "charade", according to local media.

There was tight security in the building with police and gendarmes deployed both outside and inside.

Senegal's President Macky Sall, who beat Abdoulaye Wade in a tight election in 2012, had warned that his government would stifle any unrest provoked by the court ruling.

Karim Wade went on trial in July 2014 charged with illegally acquiring companies and real estate while serving in various government posts during his father's 12-year presidency.

He has been in custody since April 2013, with prosecutors demanding a seven-year prison term.

After a successful career in finance in London, Karim Wade returned to Senegal two years after his father's 2000 presidential victory and was soon tapped for a series of increasingly important public positions.

- 'Minister for heaven and Earth' -

Those included simultaneous appointments to key ministerial portfolios, earning him the nickname "minister of heaven and Earth".

He was also chosen to head the National Agency for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (ANOCI), which successfully oversaw the transformation of Dakar in time to host the 11th Islamic Summit of 57 Muslim countries in 2008 -- but was also criticised for a lack of financial transparency.

Backed by his father, Wade was also selected to oversee the construction of a new international airport in Dakar, the restructuring of Senegal's chemical industry and the creation of a special economic zone.

But the younger Wade, whose mother Viviane is French, also inspired mistrust and derision among voters over his long stays in Europe and his lack of mastery of the country's main language Wolof.

Voters made their disdain clear in 2009, when Wade campaigned to become the mayor of Dakar -- a bid interpreted as setting the stage for higher national political ambitions, but which resulted in an electoral drubbing.