Supporters of Dakar’s mayor Khalifa Sall carry placards and chant slogans during a demonstration calling for his immediate release 

PARIS, France ––The case of Senegal’s most famous mayor Khalifa Sall takes a turn for a conclusion and a possible backlash.

Mayor Khalifa Sall, Senegal’s most popular opposition politician.  Political commentators say he is expected to win the upcoming presidential election should he be allowed to run.

The trial judge presiding over the controversially alleged embezzlement of public funds case will issue a verdict on March 30, the court has announced.

Dakar mayor Khalifa Sall has been accused with seven others of misappropriating 1.83 billion CFA francs ($3.3 million, 2.8 million euros) — a charge he denies and described as a political witch–hunt.  His supporters say it is a fabrication and political mechanization by incumbent president Macky Sall to prevent him the popular mayor from running for president and defeating him.

On Friday, Judge Malick Lamotte said a ruling would be issued on March 30 as the two sides have argued their case for the final time in a trial that has lasted more than a month.

Lawyers for former mayor have argued that he should be released, pointing to the absence of a lawyer during the mayor’s arrest and questioning.

They also maintained that the money was for political purposes and not a slush fund.

Incumbent Senegalese President Macky Sall (no relations) is accused of being seriously intimidated by Mayor Sall’s presidential ambition.

“I perceive this affair as a way to prop up a government that wants to stay in power,” defense lawyer Abdou Daly Kane told the court, referring to a presidential election in 2019 Sall had hoped to contest.

Prosecutors in the case have asked for a seven-year prison sentence for Mayor Sall and his financial director Mbaye Toure, and a fine of more than 8 million euros ($9.84 million).

The government is also demanding a fine of $10 million euros worth of damages.

Khalifa Sall, a popular politician, and ex-mayor of the capital Dakar was elected to Senegal’s national assembly from prison last July, but his parliamentary immunity was lifted last month to pave the way for his trial.

His long pre-trial detention and the allegations of political machinations behind his arrest have embarrassed and bewildered the diplomatic community in a nation with strong democratic institutions.