Heavy sentences affirmed in ex-Algerian PM cases

Approximately 20 former politicians and leading businessmen were judged on appeal in corruption cases.
Sunday 29/03/2020
Former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia (left) and former Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal (right). (AP)
Former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia (left) and former Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal (right). (AP)

ALGIERS - An Algerian appeals court upheld prison sentences of more than 10 years for two former prime ministers under ex-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika following an unprecedented corruption trial.

The court set sentences for Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal at 15 and 12 years jail time, respectively, affirming a ruling by a lower court last December.

The two former prime ministers served under Bouteflika, who was forced to resign in April 2019 during enormous street protests against his bid for a fifth term in office. They were the first former prime ministers to be put on trial since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.

“This verdict on appeal is still a political ruling,” Sellal’s lawyer Mourad Khader said. The defendants have until April 1 to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Scandals in Algeria’s auto industry, including murky funding for Bouteflika’s aborted re-election bid, were at the heart of the case, which resulted in prison terms for other former ministers and businessmen close to the ex-president’s regime.

Financing for the long-time leader’s campaign had “cost the treasury an estimated 110 billion dinars ($890 million),” the prosecutor said. The auto industry scandal led to the loss of more than $1 billion in public funds, official figures stated.

Other rulings handed down by the appeals court reduced sentences for former Algerian ministers and businessmen. Former Industry Ministers Mahdjoub Bedda and Youcef Yousfi, initially sentenced to ten years in prison, had their jail terms halved.

Businessman Ali Haddad, founder and CEO of private construction firm ETRHB and former head of Algeria’s main employers’ organisation who was considered a principal funder of Bouteflika’s last electoral campaign, had his 7-year prison sentence reduced to 4 years.

However, his lawyer Khaled Bourayou said it was still an “unjustifiable verdict.”

“As long as justice is instrumentalised, we can’t expect anything else,” he said of the ruling, adding that the plaintiffs would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Two owners of vehicle assembly plants, Hassen Arbaoui and Mohamed Bairi, received sentences of 4 and 3 years in prison, respectively.

Since March 1, approximately 20 former politicians, powerful businessmen and senior officials have been judged on appeal in corruption cases. Trials await other defendants named in wide-ranging investigations, begun after Bouteflika’s departure, into alleged corruption.

Mass protests against cronyism have continued in Algeria despite Bouteflika’s resignation and the election of a new president in December. Activists demand a complete overhaul of the political system and removal of Bouteflika-era figures.

While some have welcomed the trials of figures in his entourage, including his powerful brother Said and two former intelligence chiefs, many fear that they amount to little more than a power struggle between regime “clans.”

(Agence France-Presse)