Senegal ex-president's son on trial

Dakar - The flamboyant "super minister" son of former Senegalese leader Abdoulaye Wade went on trial Thursday accused of accumulating a multi-million dollar fortune through corruption while in office.

Karim Wade, 45, is alleged to have corruptly acquired companies and real estate worth almost $240 million and has been in custody in Dakar for more than a year.

Wade, dressed all in white, told the packed Dakar anti-corruption court in his opening statement that he was a "political prisoner".

Prosecutors claim the money he made is in tax havens Monaco and Singapore, although his defence claims that almost half is in a Singapore account which doesn't belong to Wade.

His lawyers say the amount linked to Wade is closer to $2.7m, a sum they say he earned legitimately as a European trader before entering government.

A large crowd gathered at the court to support the defendant, including his mother Viviane and several senior political allies.

Flanked by two prison guards, he arrived to chants of "Karim! Karim!" and greeted his supporters with a smile and two arms raised in a gesture of victory.

The hearing was punctuated by several breaks for legal arguments until late afternoon, when the presiding judge, Henri Gregoire Diop, adjourned until Monday.

Eight alleged accomplices of Wade are also due to stand trial, including Ibrahima Abdoukhalil Bourgi, a Senegalese businessman of Lebanese origin who has been on bail since June 2013 on medical grounds.

Bourgi was taken by ambulance from a clinic in Dakar to attend the hearing by order of the court, but permitted to return to his sickbed for "humanitarian reasons".

Witch hunt

Wade's legal team has complained about "a gross manipulation" of the facts of the case and say its client is being set up as part of a conspiracy to stop him running for the 2017 presidential election.

The former ruling Senegalese Democratic Party (PDS) accuses the regime of Macky Sall, who ended the 12-year rule of Wade's father in the 2012 presidential election, of conducting a "witch hunt" against the PDS hierarchy since it came to power.

Sall launched a number of audits into the finances of political rivals shortly after his inauguration and several leaders of the Wade regime have been repeatedly questioned by police and judges.

Court officials publicly set out the case against the former minister the day after his arrest in April 2013, detailing a huge operation involving the movement of money through front organisations in tax havens across the world.

"This is real financial engineering that has been exposed, with frontmen and complex structures. We discovered key sectors of the economy held by offshore companies based in Panama, the British Virgin Islands and Luxembourg," prosecutor Antoine Diome said at the time.

The younger Wade was an extremely divisive figure in Senegalese politics in the run-up to the presidential election in March 2012, with many believing his father was trying to line him up for succession.

He was often criticised for alleged mismanagement of public finances and was nicknamed "super minister" and "the minister of the earth and the sky" after his father placed him in charge of the international cooperation, air transport, infrastructure and energy portfolios.

He was seen as an outsider after living for many years in Europe and returning to high-profile positions as an adviser to the veteran president and later as a cabinet minister.

Described as haughty and arrogant, Wade led the lifestyle of an international playboy during his years in government, travelling mostly in private jets and frequenting Dakar's most prestigious restaurants.

He counted among his friends King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

A former financial expert in the City of London, he was adored by his father but unpopular among ordinary people in Senegal, where he was accused of speaking the main national language, Wolof, very poorly.

In a sign of his unpopularity, he was beaten in municipal elections in Dakar in 2009, not even getting a majority of the vote in his local polling station.

The father of three daughters, Wade lost his French-German wife Karine, who was in her 30s, to cancer in the same year.