A court in Senegal sentenced opposition leader Khalifa Sall, a former mayor of Dakar, to five years in prison for embezzlement and falsifying documents.
Sall was arrested a year ago on suspicion of embezzling 1.8 billion CFA francs ($3.40 million). Prior to his arrest, he was seen as a potential rival to President Macky Sall in elections set for next year. The men are not related.
Two of the former mayor’s accomplices also got five years. Supporters say the trial was politically motivated, a charge the ruling party denies.
“I feel shame for my country,” deputy Dakar mayor Cheikh Gueye told Reuters. “This decision is meant to prevent Khalifa Sall from putting his name forward as presidential candidate.”
Senegal is seen as one of West Africa’s most stable and fair democracies, an image reinforced by a peaceful and well organised 2012 presidential poll.
In recent years opponents of the ruling party say standards are slipping. Last year’s legislative polls were marred by problems, with hundreds of Senegalese prevented from casting ballots because of delays in issuing biometric voting cards.
Opposition supporters decry what they say is a growing intolerance of dissent. Demonstrations in Dakar are often broken up by police tear gas.
The coalition of 91-year-old former president Abdoulaye Wade said his party would boycott future elections over these complaints. Wade’s group has the second highest number of seats in parliament while Khalifa Sall’s party is third.
With little natural resource wealth, Senegal has been largely free of kleptocracy on the scale of the mineral-rich countries in the region, but has suffered corruption scandals.
Karim Wade, son of former president Wade, served three years in prison for corruption, including hiding funds in offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and Panama.