Algeria jails ex-officials, fines foreign firms in highway graft case

Friday 15/05/2015

Algiers - An Algerian court sen­tenced 14 people, in­cluding former officials and businessmen, to jail and fined seven foreign firms from Europe, Asia and Cana­da in a trial related to corruption in the construction of a major cross-country highway.
The $13 billion highway project became one of several graft scan­dals involving local officials and foreign firms that are being sent to trial to underline the OPEC state’s commitment to rule of law as it seeks to attract more foreign in­vestment. The convictions on May 7th included a 10-year prison term and 3 million dinar ($31,000) fine for Chani Medjdoub, an adviser to a Chinese firm; and Mohamed Khelladi, a former public director of highway programmes, the state news agency APS said.
APS said Judge Tayeb Hallali sentenced two former officials at the public works ministry to seven years in prison for bribery, while a former intelligence officer was given a three-year term for his role in the case.
The court acquitted a former secretary-general at the ministry of the same charges. Hallali fined seven foreign firms 5 million di­nars ($51,000) each. Those includ­ed Chinese, Japanese, Canadian, Swiss and Spanish contractors. The highway, originally begun in 2006 after being awarded to a for­eign consortium and still under construction, is to run 1,200 kilo­metres between the large North African state’s western border with Morocco and eastern frontier with Tunisia.
The project mushroomed into a major scandal as it ran into repeat­ed delays because of corruption in­vestigations.
In another graft scandal involv­ing foreign suppliers, a group of former top officials from the Alge­rian state oil company Sonatrach, including an ex-chief executive, went on trial in April.
A court south of Algiers has also started a trial of the owner of Alge­ria’s former largest private lender, Khalifa Bank.
All defendants in the two cases have denied wrongdoing.
The trials come at a sensitive time for the Algerian government as it seeks to cope with the effects of sliding crude oil prices and lure more investors to its lifeblood en­ergy sector. Oil and gas exports comprise 97% of sales abroad.
Algeria, which relies heavily on oil and gas revenue for the state budget, was ranked 100 out of 177 nations in Transparency Interna­tional’s Corruption Perceptions In­dex for 2014.