Senegal former president's high-flying son Karim gets 6 years for graft, knocked out of 2016 race

File photo shows Karim Wade, son of Senegal's former President Abdoulaye Wade, arriving at a court in Dakar on July 31, 2014

KARIM Wade, the high-flying son of former Senegal president Abdoulaye Wade bidding to follow his father to the top office, was sentenced Monday to six years in prison in a deeply divisive graft case.

The 46-year-old flamboyant former minister was found guilty of “illicit enrichment” and fined the equivalent of more than 210 million euros ($230 million). His assets are 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.

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

It was unclear if Wade can still stand for the presidency but former minister and lawyer Abdoulaye Babou told AFP that “in the normal course of things Karim Wade will no longer have civic rights.”

The verdict was met with cries of dismay from dozens of Wade’s supporters inside the courtroom, with some breaking down in tears.

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

‘Justice has spoken’ 

“Justice has spoken,” government spokesman Oumar Youm told the private RFM radio station. “We must submit to this decision.”

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.

Senegal’s 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.

Karim Wade went on trial in June 2014 charged with illegally acquiring companies and real estate while serving in various government posts during his father’s 2000-2012 presidency.

He has been in custody since April 2013.

Prosecutors had sought a seven-year prison term but Wade denied the charges, and his supporters—led by his father—claimed the trial was politically motivated.

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.

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 over 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 table for higher national political ambitions, but which resulted in his electoral drubbing.

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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