ALGIERS Algeria’s wealthiest businessman and four other billionaires close to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who quit over mass protests, have been arrested as part of an anti-graft investigation, state TV said on Monday.

The five are Issad Rebrab, considered the richest businessman in the energy-rich north African nation, who is especially active in the food and sugar refining business, and four brothers from the Kouninef family, it said.

The move came after army chief Lieutenant General Gaid Salah said last week he expected members of the ruling elite to be prosecuted for graft.

Protesters have called during two months of dissent for the removal of the elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962, and the prosecution of people they see as corrupt.

Rebrab is chairman of the family-owned Cevital company, which imp­orts raw sugar from Brazil and exports white sugar to Tunisia, Libya and other destinations in the Middle East.

The billionaires were later brought to court to face charges from the general prosecutor’s office, the state TV channel said. Neither they nor their lawyers could be reached for comment.

Rebrab tweeted earlier that he had gone voluntarily to a police station to discuss a matter of equipment being held up at Algiers port.

TV footage later showed a police car bringing Rebrab, who also owns the “Liberte” daily, to a court.

Rebrad is being investigated mainly over “false statements regarding the movement of capital from and to abroad, inflating equipment import bills and importing used equipment”, according to state TV.

The Kouninef family is close to Bouteflika, who ruled Algeria for 20 years. Bouteflika stepped down three weeks ago, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations by mainly younger Algerians seeking change.

An Algerian court has already summoned former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, two close associates of Bouteflika, in an investigation into suspected misuse of public money, state TV said on Saturday.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2019