ALGIERS: An Algerian court sentenced two former prime ministers to long jail terms on Tuesday in the first of a series of high-profile corruption trials launched after longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in the face of mass protests in April.
The verdicts came just two days before Algeria is due to elect a president to replace Bouteflika in a vote bitterly opposed by the country’s nine-month-old protest movement, which sees it as a regime ploy to cling to power.
Former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, who were both close to the ousted president, were sentenced to 15 years and 12 years respectively.
It was the first time since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962 that former prime ministers were put on trial.
The state prosecutor had sought 20-year prison sentences for the two ex-premiers. In all, 19 defendants were tried on charges ranging from money laundering to abuse of office and granting undue privileges in the nascent vehicle assembly industry.
The Algerian automotive sector got its start in 2014, via partnerships between foreign groups and large Algerian corporations, many of which are owned by businessmen linked to Bouteflika’s entourage.
One former industry minister, Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is on the run abroad, was sentenced in absentia to 20 years. Two other former industry ministers, Mahdjoub Bedda and Youcef Yousfi, were handed 10-year terms.
Businessman Ali Haddad, founder and CEO of private construction firm ETRHB and former head of Algeria’s main employers’ organisation, was sentenced to seven years.
And three businessmen who own vehicle assembly plants — Ahmed Mazouz, Hassen Arbaoui and Mohamed Bairi — were sentenced to seven years, six years and three years respectively.
The prosecutor denounced a sector dominated by nepotism and favouritism, describing businessmen who “managed front companies while benefiting from undue tax, customs and land benefits”.
The automotive scandal cost the treasury more than 128 billion dinars (975 million euros), according to the official APS news agency.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2019