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Wednesday, January 13, 1999 Published at 02:19 GMT

World: Africa

Traore faces death penalty

Embezzlement: Traore convicted of stealing from Mali

By Joan Baxter in Bamako

The former President of Mali, Moussa Traore, has been sentenced to death along with his wife and her brother for embezzlement during his 23 years in office.

This is not the first time Mr Traore has faced the courts since his overthrow in 1991.

In 1993 he was charged with crimes against humanity for having ordered troops to open fire on demonstrating students.

That resulted in hundreds of deaths and led to the coup d'etat which ushered in a transition year and democratic elections in Mali.

In that trial, Moussa Traore was found guilty and sentenced to death. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment by Mali's current president, Alpha Konare.

[ image: Impassive: Traore did not react to sentence]
Impassive: Traore did not react to sentence
Mr Traore's reappearance in court on charges of economic crimes eight years later seem to many something of an anticlimax but the verdict handed down in the capital, Bamako, was anything but that.

There was an expectant hush when the judge announced that Moussa Traore had been found guilty.

The few dozen ardent supporters of the former president were outnumbered by the armed soldiers and police officers who swarmed the building for this last dramatic day.

Mr Traore himself stood impassively before the seven-member jury, showing no sign of emotion as the judge condemned him, his wife and her brother to death.

In the end, the three were found guilty of embezzling not the $4m in the original charges but the lower figure of $350,000.

On a continent where corruption can often be calculated in the billions of dollars this can seem a relatively insignificant figure .

Indeed many in Mali are viewing this trial and the harsh verdict as more political than economic.

Mr Traore's defence lawyers walked out of the trial a month ago, calling it a parody of justice.

Mali's attorney-general himself has cast doubt on the proceedings, saying the investigators should have come up with more hard evidence - something that they might have done if countries in Europe and North America had agreed to co-operate in tracing money transfers.

Other critics say the verdict is convenient for President Alpha Konare, who has in the past earned himself praise from the international donor community by commuting death sentences to life imprisonment.

And this is what many people here believe Konare will do for ex-president Traore - for the second time.

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