January 3, 2019 / 3:57 PM / 2 months ago

Senegal presidential hopeful loses appeal against jail time

DAKAR (Reuters) - Senegal’s Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that jailed presidential hopeful Khalifa Sall could not appeal a prison sentence for embezzlement, his lawyers said, likely ending his chance of running as a free man in February polls.

The popular former mayor of Dakar was arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of embezzling 1.8 billion CFA francs ($3 million) in public funds. Last year he was sentenced to five years in jail.

Opponents of President Macky Sall, who is no relation to Khalifa, say he has tried to silence political opposition ahead of the Feb. 24 election. The ruling party and state lawyers have denied that.

In a report last year, Amnesty International criticised the Senegalese government for cracking down on peaceful demonstrations and said the judiciary handling Khalifa’s case “showed a lack of independence”.

Khalifa Sall’s lawyer, Seydou Diagne, said his client had not been stripped of his political rights and still stood a chance of running in the election. Diagne said he plans to take the case to another chamber of the court, which would take more than a month.

State lawyers were not available for comment.

Despite his imprisonment, Khalifa Sall was one of just five candidates who collected the 53,000 supporting signatures required to run for election.

Karim Wade, the son of former president Abdoulaye Wade, also collected enough signatures. He served three years of a six-year prison sentence for corruption between 2015 and 2017 before going into exile in Qatar.

Senegalese law bans citizens sentenced to more than five years in prison from running for election.

The Constitutional Council said it would publish a final list of approved candidates on Jan. 21.

Senegal has had three largely peaceful transitions of power since independence from France in 1960. ($1 = 569.2200 CFA francs)

Additional reporting by Diadie Ba; Editing by Edward McAllister and Robin Pomeroy

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