Row over re-export of anti-retrovirals becomes political

SENEGAL: Row over re-export of anti-retrovirals becomes political

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President Wade feels "let down"

DAKAR, 13 Apr 2004 (PLUSNEWS) - A minor Senegalese politician who has confessed to re-exporting to Europe subsidised anti-retroviral drugs meant for poor
Africans is gaining the support of Islamic and human rights organisations who say he is being persecuted by the government.

Abdou Latif Gueye, the former president of the international charity Afrique Aide l'Afrique (AAA) has admitted buying anti-retroviral drugs from international drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline for distribution at subsidised prices to people living with AIDS in Senegal and then re-exporting part of the consignment at a profit.

However, Gueye, who also heads a small political party, the Rally for Social Democracy (RDS), has been in prison for 16 months awaiting trial.

Islamic organisations, a local human rights group and many mainstream Senegalese politicians are now clamouring for his release, claiming that his continued detention is unjustified. Particularly, they say, since the crime of which he has been indicted - evasion of customs duties - is normally punishable by a fine rather than a prison sentence.

The Collective of Islamic Associations of Senegal, an umbrella group of 18 Islamic organisations, recently called for the release of Gueye.

RADDHO, a Dakar-based human rights organisation, has meanwhile accused the government of "kidnapping" the 48 year-old Islamic activist and one time supporter of President Abdoulaye Wade.

Gueye suffers from high blood pressure and heart problems. Calls for his release have grown louder since a deterioration in his condition led to his transfer to a Dakar hospital on 31 March.

His case has been taken up by a cross-party human rights group in parliament and local newspapers have reported that the government recently offered to send him to France for medical treatment, but Gueye himself had refused to leave Senegal until his court case was settled.

Gueye was arrested in January 2003 after Dutch customs officials were surprised to come across freight documents indicating that Senegal, a poor African country which did not produce antiretroviral drugs, was in fact exporting them. The shipment was traced back to AAA.

Gueye admitted at his first court appearance that he had in fact resold some of the drugs received from GlaxoSmithKline at a profit. However, he claimed that the proceeds had been reinvested by AAA in other charitable work.

Gueye's supporters talk about "a political plot" to keep the man in jail. His defence lawyers have argued that the charge of customs fraud levelled against him is in fact baseless, since Gueye had a government certificate allowing him to import the goods concerned duty free.

What is certain is that President Wade does not hide his bitterness and disappointment at the way that Gueye, a man who he once supported and promoted, has let him down on a key pillar of government policy.

Senegal takes pride in its reputation as a country with one of the most enlightened attitudes towards AIDS in Africa and one of the most effective AIDS control programmes on the continent.

"I feel very let down because this institution (AAA) formed part of a series of inititiaves from which I was expecting great things," Wade said last October. "Abdou Latif was implicated in an anti-retroviral scam. It is a shame because those medicines were destined for Africans living with AIDS, but they were misappropriated for resale at a higher price in Europe," the
president added.

The relationship between Wade and Gueye began during the run-up to the March 2000 presidential election which brought Wade to power.

At the time Gueye ran an Islamic charity called Jamra, which tackled AIDS, prostitution, drugs and juvenile crime. He also ran the RDS, which eventually threw its weight behind Wade's election campaign.

Gratitude following Wade's election victory, was not slow in coming. Gueye was made president of the AAA, an inter-governmental inititiative sponsored heavily by Senegal and Morocco which was supposed to get Africans doing more to help each other. He was also given the title of ambassador and a
diplomatic passport.

AAA held celebrity dinners to raise money and gave relatively modest sums to earthquake victims in Algeria, the families of people who perished when the Joola, a Senegalese ferry, capsized in 2002 with the loss of 1,153 lives and those affected by the civil war in Cote d'Ivoire. However, since Gueye's arrest, the organisation has all but disappeared from public view.


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