By Babacar Dione*
DAKAR, Senegal — Authorities on Friday freed Karim Wade, the son of Senegal’s longtime former president, after he served half of his six-year sentence on charges of corruption and illegally accumulating a fortune of at least $200 million.
The former Cabinet minister has long been a divisive figure in Senegal. He became so powerful under his father, ex-President Abdoulaye Wade, that Senegalese derisively referred to him as “Minister of the Sky and the Earth” and critics feared he was being groomed as a possible successor.
Karim Wade’s arrest and prosecution in a special anti-corruption court was the most high-profile case in the crackdown on graft waged by current leader Macky Sall, who defeated Abdoulaye Wade in a 2012 election. Karim Wade’s supporters said his 2015 conviction was evidence of a personal vendetta against the family. The Wades have dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
Originally accused of amassing a fortune of more than $1.3 billion, Karim Wade was fined around $230 million as part of his sentence.
In a presidential decree, Sall said the financial sanctions and penalties against Wade remained in place, and Justice Minister Sidiki Kaba said the state would continue to confiscate assets.
Wade flew to Qatar immediately after being released. In a statement, he thanked the Gulf country’s ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, “who out of friendship for me, never stopped intervening to put an end to the injustice I suffered for four years.”
Wade said the conditions of his release made it impossible for him to see supporters before leaving. He did not elaborate. Authorities had sought to avoid a repeat of the unrest that was unleashed the day of his conviction, when young supporters set tires ablaze in the streets.
Sall’s popularity has faltered amid complaints he hasn’t done enough to improve the lives of ordinary Senegalese. The next presidential election is set for 2019, and many of Karim Wade’s supporters hope he will be a candidate.