Sudan's Bashir gets two years' detention for corruption

Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali and Emmanuel Parisse
Bashir, in prison since his overthrow, was sentenced on Saturday to two years' detention in a correctional centre for the elderly for corruption

Sudan's former president Omar al-Bashir was sentenced Saturday to two years' detention in a correctional centre for corruption in the first of several cases against the ousted autocrat.

The charges stemmed from millions of dollars received by the toppled strongman from Saudi Arabia.

In a statement late Saturday, the prosector general confirmed Bashir was also being investigated for "killings and crimes against humanity in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile", Sudanese states all hit by major armed conflict since the turn of the century.

The prosecutor also noted the ex-president was being investigated for his role in the coup that brought him to power in 1989 and said that the punishment for some of his alleged crimes is death by hanging.

Bashir, who was deposed by the army in April after months of mass protests against his iron-fisted rule, appeared in court in a metal cage wearing a traditional white jalabiya and turban for the verdict.

He was convicted of "corruption" and "possession of foreign currency", judge Al Sadiq Abdelrahman said, charges which can carry a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Instead the court, taking into account his age, ordered the 75-year-old to serve two years in a correctional centre for the elderly.

"Under the law, those who reached the age of 70 shall not serve jail terms," the judge said.

But the prosecutor general said in his statement he was calling for that law to be changed to allow jail time for people aged over 70. His statement also announced corruption probes of Bashir and regime associates involving "billions of dollars".

Bashir will serve his sentence after the verdict has been reached in another case in which he is accused of ordering the killing of demonstrators during the protests that led to his ouster, the judge said.

The court also ordered the confiscation of 6.9 million euros, $351,770 and 5.7 million Sudanese pounds ($128,000) found at Bashir's home.

The Sudanese Professionals Association -- the group that initially led protests against Bashir -- welcomed the verdict on Twitter.

"This is not over for Bashir -- there are other cases" to answer, it added.

The ex-president will appeal the verdict, said one of his lawyers, Ahmed Ibrahim.

Outside the court, several dozen Bashir supporters gathered chanting: "There is no god but God."

Hundreds more holding banners calling for the fall of the government marched in central Khartoum where there was a heavy security presence, before dispersing.

Sudan is now ruled by a joint civilian and military sovereign council, which is tasked with overseeing a transition to civilian rule.

The authorities announced Saturday the dissolution of professional organisations put in place under Bashir -- one of the demands of the protest movement that unseated him.

- Saudi 'donations' -

Bashir admitted to having received a total of $90 million from Saudi leaders and the trial centred on the $25 million received from the kingdom's de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Bashir said the money seized from his home came out of the $25 million.

The funds, he said, formed part of Sudan's strategic relations with Saudi Arabia and were "not used for private interests but as donations".

Bashir's lawyer Mohamed al-Hassan had said before the verdict that the ex-president's defence did not see the trial as a legal case, but as a "political" one.

The trial does not relate to charges Bashir faces at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

But the investigation on alleged crimes in conflict hit states announced by the prosecutor general late Saturday does overlap significantly with the ICC indictments.

Bashir has been wanted by the ICC for years for his role in the Darfur war that broke out in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels took up arms against his Arab-dominated government which they accused of marginalising the region.

Human rights groups say Khartoum targeted suspected pro-rebel ethnic groups with a scorched earth policy, raping, killing, looting and burning villages.

The Darfur conflict left around 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the United Nations.

After Bashir was toppled, ICC prosecutors requested he stand trial for the killings in Darfur.

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