A court in the Comoros on Monday handed down a life sentence for high treason to ex-president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who was convicted of selling passports to stateless people living in the Gulf.
Sambi, 64, an arch rival of President Azali Assoumani, was sentenced by the State Security Court. The state security court is a special judicial body whose rulings cannot be appealed.
“He betrayed the mission entrusted to him by the Comorians,” public prosecutor Ali Mohamed Djounaid told the court last week.
A law authorizing the selling of passports for hefty prices was pushed through in 2008 by Sambi; he led the small Indian Ocean archipelago from 2006 to 2011.
The program was intended for the so-called bidoon, a sizeable Arab minority who are denied citizenship.
According to the allegations, the former president embezzled millions of dollars.
The cost, according to the prosecution, exceeded $1.8 billion, which is greater than the GDP of the underdeveloped country.
Read more: Afcon-2021-hosts-Cameroon-labour-to-beat-Comoros-who-played-with-10-men-defender-in-goal/
“They gave thugs the right to sell Comorian nationality as if they were selling peanuts,” said Eric Emmanuel Sossa, a lawyer for civilian plaintiffs.
But Sambi’s French lawyer Jean-Gilles Halimi said “no evidence” of missing money had been put forward to suggest a crime.
Sambi refused to attend the trial after a brief appearance at the first hearing; as his lawyers said there were no guarantees he would be judged fairly.
He was originally prosecuted for corruption; but the charges were reclassified as high treason, a crime that “does not exist in Comorian law,” Halimi said.
Sambi had already spent four years behind bars before he faced trial, far exceeding the maximum eight months. He was originally placed under house arrest for disturbing public order.