Omar al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan, has appeared in court for the first day of a high-profile corruption trial that could result in the deposed autocratic ruler being jailed for many years.
The 75-year-old has been in detention since being forced out of power in April when security forces withdrew their support for his regime after months of popular protests.
He was informed by the prosecutor’s office on Monday morning that he faced charges of “possessing foreign currency, corruption and receiving gifts illegally”.
Bashir arrived outside the Judicial and Legal Science Institute, where the trial is taking place, in a huge military convoy, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Pro-democracy campaigners and victims of systematic human rights abuses under Bashir’s 30-year rule hope he will also face further charges of incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters.
The trial comes as Sudan’s military rulers and protest leaders begin to implement a landmark deal reached this month that is meant to pave the way for civilian rule.
The deal between the country’s military rulers and the opposition coalition of the Alliance for Freedom and Change was welcomed with relief by both sides, with protesters celebrating what they saw as the victory of their “revolution” and generals taking credit for averting a bloody civil war.
Tens of thousands of people of all ages took to the streets of Khartoum on Saturday in celebration, with many heading toward the newly renamed Freedom Square, once the site of many of Bashir’s rallies.
A key priority for the pro-democracy campaigners – to bring former members of Bashir’s regime to justice – is high up in the new constitutional charter.
Members of the former dictator’s legal team, which includes almost 100 lawyers, are optimistic the court will throw out the current graft charges.
Mohamed el-Hassan el-Amin said the worst punishment Bashir would face was a fine. “There’s no way he will be condemned in this case … When he did what he did he was then a president with immunity.”
Human rights lawyers say charges for more serious offences will come when the civilian-led government is formed. “It won’t only be him, but other big figures of his regime will all face these charges. We are just waiting to have a proper justice minister, and a new attorney general,” said Abdullah Galley, a member of the Democratic Coalition for Lawyers.
So far, authorities in Sudan have refused to hand Bashir to the international criminal court in The Hague, which has accused him of criminal responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide following the killing, maiming and torture of hundreds of thousands of people in the region of Darfur.
The UN estimated that 200,000 to 400,000 people died in the conflict, with a further 2.7 million displaced. Militia formed and directed by Bashir are blamed for the worst atrocities.