Senegal: IMF official given cash farewell gift

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Senegal’s president said Tuesday that he hosted a special dinner at his palace for a departing International Monetary Fund representative ? only to have a top aide erroneously send him off with nearly $200,000 in cash as a goodbye gift.

President Abdoulaye Wade’s admission has prompted the opposition in the West African nation to call for an investigation.

Wade said his top aide gave the cash to IMF country director Alex Segura after a Sept. 25 dinner at the presidential palace marking the end of Segura’s three-year term. Wade issued a statement Tuesday in which he said the gift was not a bribe.

A top aide to the president asked if he should give something to Segura as is custom, the statement said.

“The president said yes without specifying the sum, as there was a common practice,” the statement said. “The top aide was mistaken about the amount and realized his error later.”

Wade did not specify what the proper amount was supposed to be. Nor did Wade say if the Senegalese government had followed a similar practice with other diplomats or foreign officials.

An IMF statement said Segura left the president’s house immediately for the airport and only later discovered that the gift was a large sum of U.S. dollars and euros. The IMF said they have returned the money to the Senegalese government.

Wade said he was not attempting to bribe Segura.

“It doesn’t make sense to talk about corruption of someone who is leaving permanently without the slightest chance of meeting each other again one day,” Wade said.

Wade, the 83-year-old leader of Senegal, has come under increasing criticism for corruption allegations. He recently changed the constitution to alter the length of the presidential term from five to seven years. Last month, he announced that he planned to run for a third term ? meaning that he could be in office well into his 90s.

He has dismayed former supporters through ostentatious displays of wealth, including renting numerous suites in a luxury hotel in Switzerland this summer for his annual summer vacation. His Swiss holiday, which one newspaper claimed had cost the government at least $1.6 million, came at the same time that Senegal suffered devastating rains that flooded entire neighborhoods, causing some 264,000 people to lose their homes.

He also has raised eyebrows by giving important portfolios to his son, Karim Wade, who was raised abroad and is not fluent in Wolof, the predominant local language. The elder Wade has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing by his son.

Opposition legislator Imam Mbaye Niang said he will ask parliament to investigate the recent gift.

“Wade has to be taken to court for spending national money illegally,” he said. “Unfortunately I am sure that we will not succeed because the opposition is the minority in parliament.”

An IMF statement issued late Monday said the Washington-based organization would launch an independent investigation into the matter.

“The president explained that the money was intended as a traditional farewell gift to Mr. Segura in recognition of his contribution to Senegal, and was not in any way intended to influence either Mr. Segura, who was leaving the country permanently, or the IMF,” the statement said.

The IMF said that Wade had acknowledged the amount that was provided was a mistake. The bank said Segura informed his successor on the night of his departure and they agreed that Segura would transport the money to his destination, Barcelona.

“With Mr. Segura worried about missing his flight and, concerned that there was no place to leave the money safely in Senegal, he decided to take the money aboard the plane,” the statement said.

The IMF said they returned the money to Senegal’s ambassador to Spain in early October. Segura has since returned to Washington, the statement said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.