Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

Sudan’s Omar Al Bashir convicted in corruption trial

After nearly three decades in power, former leader ends career with two-year sentence after being convicted in court

Hundreds of soldiers and policemen lined the streets on the approach to the Judicial and Legal Science Institute in eastern Khartoum’s Arkaweet suburb on Saturday.

In a year of monumental changes in Sudan, the weekend is set to be historic. Omar Al Bashir, the man who ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 30-years was convicted on Saturday of illegally possessing millions in foreign currency.

He was sentenced to two years in a rehabilitation facility and the money was confiscated by the state.

Supporters of the 75-year-old former president in the courtroom disrupted proceedings, shouting Allahu Akbar and chanted "political" alleging the trial was a sham before being pushed out of the room by security forces.

Judge Al Sadiq Abdel Rahman took around an hour to read the final indictment against the former president as Al Bashir stood in the small defendant's cage in the courtroom.

The streets around the makeshift courthouse were largely clear ahead of his appearance, few gathering to hear the fate of the man who was removed from office in April after months of mass nationwide rallies.

Al Bashir arrived at the institute at around 9:45 AM local time in a joint police and army convoy of some 15 speeding all-terrain vehicles with heavy machine guns mounted to the back. Al Bashir sat in a white SUV that swiftly entered the institute’s courtyard as news cameras captured the scene.

Prior to the convoy’s arrival, police commandos guarded the institute and blocked the street leading to the building. Some of the commandos wore ski masks and dark glasses.

Besides journalists and defence lawyers, members of all Mr Al Bashir’s family were admitted into the courtroom to hear the verdict.

All surrendered their phones and submitted to searches.

Since the departure of Al Bashir, Sudan has begun to take its first tentative steps on the road to democratic transition, with civilian leaders signing a deal with the military to oversee the changes.

The administration of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok faces numerous challenges over the next 35 months as he seeks to reconcile longstanding conflicts in the country, weed out the vestiges of Al Bashir’s National Congress party and bring some stability to the economy – the issue that sparked last December’s uprisings.

Al Bashir’s case on Saturday is the first milestone for the new administration as it seeks to pivot the country away from the conservative political Islamist’s nepotistic rule.

After years of presiding over a heavy-handed security state that jailed critics and silenced journalists, carried out bloody military campaigns in Darfur that earned indictments for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity at the international criminal court, the case Al Bashir was convicted for on Saturday seem minor.

When authorities searched his home shortly after removing him from office in April they found suitcases stuffed with millions of dollars in cash in euros, dollars and Sudanese pounds. He was soon charged with possession of foreign currencies, corruption and receiving illegal gifts.

He faced up to 10 years in prison.

But, more serious charges related to his time in office could still be brought. He has already been accused of ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising earlier this year as well as his role in the coup that brought him to power in 1989 and ended Sudan’s last attempt at democratic rule.

The new administration and the powerful military heads that are taking part in the transition have made it clear they have no intention of handing Al Bashir over to the ICC for prosecution.

Instead, they have said, he should face justice at home in Khartoum.

Sudanese are watching Saturday’s hearing closely to see the fate of the man who was once seen as untouchable, presiding over a delicate web of patronage and favours that secured his position for nearly three decades. Additional reporting by Hamza Hendawi in Khartoum

Updated: December 16, 2019 04:37 AM

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