A court in Senegal sentenced opposition leader Khalifa Sall, a former mayor of the capital Dakar, to five years in prison on Friday 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 had been seen as a potential rival to President Macky Sall in elections set for next year. The two men are not related.
Two of the former mayor’s accomplices also got five years. His 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.
But in recent years, opponents of the ruling party say standards are slipping. Last year’s legislative polls were marred by problems, with many hundreds of Senegalese voters prevented from casting ballots because of delays in issuing biometric voting cards.
Opposition supporters also decry what they say is a growing intolerance of dissent. Demonstrations in Dakar are often scattered by police tear gas.
The coalition of 91-year-old former president Abdoulaye Wade has 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 sometimes suffered corruption scandals nonetheless.
Karim Wade, the 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.