Nobody in Jordan expected Mohammed al-Dahabi, who was head of the intelligence service from 2005 to 2008, to be handed the maximum prison sentence of 13 years at the end of his corruption trial. He used to be one of the most feared security officials in the country, and one of the closest people to King Abdullah.
The prosecution accused Dahabi of embezzling public funds, money laundering and abuse of public office. The court in Amman has also fined him nearly $30m, in addition to ordering Dahabi to also return the $34m he allegedly embezzled during his time in office.
Dahabi has been accused of taking money from wealthy Iraqi businessmen to engage in money laundering activities in Jordan while he was in office.
Evidence in the investigation showed Dahabi’s wealth quadrupled when he was intelligence chief between 2005 and 2008.
He has also been accused of receiving money from Iraqis in return for granting them Jordanian nationality, which is not a privilege a businessman can legally obtain.
One of the lawyers on his defence team told Al Jazeera the verdict is exceedingly harsh. He even expected a not guilty verdict, citing lack of evidence presented by the testimonies to incriminate him. His lawyers plan to appeal the verdict within 15 days and say they hope the Court of Appeal will have a fairer judgment.
The government has been trying hard to show it is serious about fighting corruption. Jordanian protesters believe sweeping economic and political reforms cannot be achieved without a brutal war on corruption.
By punishing Dahabi and others, the government feels it will calm the nerves of protesters and stop accusing the authorities of overlooking and even condoning corruption by its officials.
People on the streets of Amman are generally pleased with the long prison sentence Dahabi’s just received.
They say if he’s stolen money and abused his powers, he deserved the punishment. More importantly, Jordanians say he has to return the money he stole to the country’s treasury, which is suffering.
But critics of the government say Dahabi did not act alone.
Even the highest level of leadership in the country had given him the green light to pursue these illegal activities and take advantage of the spoils of war leaving Iraq following the US invasion.
These critics argue that Dahabi has been singled out and set up as a political scapegoat. The verdict settles scores between Dahabi and the leadership on the one hand, and placates an angry public calling for an end to corruption on the other. The result: two birds hit by one stone.
Nonetheless, both the trial and the verdict are indeed significant. Dahabi is only the second former intelligence chief to be tried and convicted of corruption after Sameeh Battikhi, who received a five year prison sentence, which he spent under house arrest in his Aqaba home.
So what’s next?
If the government doesn’t continue its fight against corruption and investigates other officials suspected of graft cases, it’s next to impossible for it to convince the public it is not selective about who it tries and who it leaves untouched.
Only one yardstick can be used in trying the other officials suspected of corruption equally.
Follow Nisreen El-Shamayleh on Twitter: @NisreenAJE