June 27, 2016 (GIN) – Karim Wade, son of ex-president Abdoulaye Wade, has been pardoned and freed from jail by the current Senegalese president, despite a campaign pledge to fight corruption.
Karim was serving a six year term for corruption and “illegal enrichment,” having amassed a fortune of $1.4 billion which he stashed offshore, according to testimonies in court. Yet he was freed and flown out of the country to Qatar after serving only half the term.
President Macky Sall defeated the Karim’s father by promising to end impunity for financial crimes in 2012.
Karim was also fined $230,000 for “illegal enrichment” during his father’s 12 year rule. He was jailed in April 2013.
Karim Wade was a senior minister in his father’s government, and was in charge of major infrastructure and energy projects. His large portfolio led to him being dubbed “the minister of the earth and the sky”.
He was recently chosen as the presidential candidate of the main opposition party, the Senegalese Democratic Party, which is still led by his father.
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. Disparaged for living in Europe for many years, he is seen by many voters as more toubab, or white European, than Senegalese.
Anti-corruption activists are deploring the pardon, calling it politically influenced.
“What happened is pure politics. Because he was released at midnight and after he left Senegal and nobody was aware, that’s unusual. Karim Wade stole this country’s money. We must condemn his acts, he should have served his sentence,” Moustapha Dieye, a Senegalese citizen told the French news agency AFP.
The civil society group Y en a Marre, which translates as “we’re sick of it”, and had campaigned against Wade’s father’s attempt at a third term, said prior to the pardon: “If Karim Wade, who was charged with graft, is freed, that would send out a very negative message to all the people who might be tempted to embezzle public funds.
“It would say ‘yes, get rich and we will release you.’”
Alternative views were expressed by Karim’s supporters. “I say he did nothing. If he had done any wrong he would not have been the freed. I cannot condemn him for being freed, three years later,” said a man only identified as Racine.
Another supporter of Karim added: “If we must probe into the wealth of most people now, then everyone would be in prison. So I find his release totally normal and I don’t even agree with the fact that he had been locked up,” said Diakhite, another Senegalese resident.
A press release from the presidency said that payment of the fine was not covered by the pardon.