Senegal former president’s high-flying son jailed

DAKAR — Karim Wade, the high-flying son of former Senegal president Abdoulaye Wade who launched a bid for the presidency just days ago, was sentenced on Monday to six years in prison in a deeply divisive graft case.

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The 46-year-old presidential hopeful and flamboyant former minister was found guilty of “illicit enrichment” and fined the equivalent of more than €210m.

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He was however cleared of the main corruption charge by a special anticorruption court in Dakar. His lawyer said on Monday he would take an appeal against the sentence to Supreme Court.  The verdict was met with cries of dismay from dozens of Wade’s supporters inside the court, with some breaking down in tears. Senegalese President Macky Sall, who beat Karim Wade’s father in a tight election in 2012, had warned that his government would stifle any unrest provoked by the court ruling.

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Wade himself was not present in court but his father, who will soon turn 89, showed up for the verdict. The senior Wade had previously shunned appearances in court. There was tight security in the building with police and gendarmes deployed both outside and inside. The sentence comes just two days after the opposition Democratic Party of Senegal (PDS) choose Karim Wade as its candidate for the country’s next presidential election. The poll date has yet to be set.

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Karim Wade went on trial in June last year charged with illegally acquiring companies and real estate worth almost €178m while serving in various government posts during his father’s 2000-12 presidency.

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He has been in custody since April 2013, while justice officials investigated claims he abused his position to accumulate vast riches.

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Prosecutors had sought a seven-year prison term. Wade denies the charges, and his supporters — led by his father — claim the trial is politically motivated.

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After a successful career in finance in the City of 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.

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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, 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.

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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.

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But the younger Wade, whose mother, Viviane, is French, also inspired mistrust and derision among voters over his long stays in Europe. They also mocked his affection for traditional Senegalese clothes despite having never mastered the country’s main language Wolof.

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

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Despite the trouncing, the elder Wade sought to pass a bill creating the post of vice-president, which many observers viewed as designed to facilitate his son’s eventual ascension to the presidency.

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Karim Wade’s divisive influence continued to grow up to Senegal’s 2012 presidential election, which his father lost to challenger Sall — whom Wade supporters accuse of having orchestrated the current corruption proceedings.

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AFP