Algerian court convicts 2 ex-prime ministers of corruption

Cheryl Sanders
December 11, 2019

An Algerian court jailed two former prime ministers for corruption on Tuesday, two days before a presidential election that protesters want cancelled.

Ahmed Ouyahia, who served four times as prime minister under former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Abdelmalek Sellal, who served twice, to 12 years.

Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years in prison and $16,000 in fines. 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 Sidi M'Hamed court fined Sellal of $8,000. The opposition is clearly divided and without a charismatic leader but is boycotting the vote amid a climate of discontent fostered by a drop in gas and oil prices that have reduced state subsidies with which the regime bought social support and as well as by slower economic growth - which dropped this year by two percentage points to 1.3% - and youth unemployment around 28%.

Algerian authorities are hoping the trial will convince the public that they are serious about fighting corruption and reforming themselves - and persuade them to go out and vote. Following weeks of protest, in April Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff commander Ahmed Gaid Sala had agreed to take Bouteflika out of power.

Many former senior officials have been in detention as the army seeks to quell mass protests that began in February demanding the prosecution of people involved in corruption and the removal of the ruling elite.

Some protesters shouted "Gang of gangsters!" and many waved or wore Algerian flags. Police surrounded the courthouse because so many protesters were trying to get into the building see the trial in person. Protesters pushed out Bouteflika earlier this year in part because of anger at corruption. Both the Army and the National Liberation Front, the party which has ruled the country since 1962, have expressed resolve to hold "free and fair" elections and called the protests against the elections unjustified. 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.

All those on trial were allies of Bouteflika and denied the charges.

The court also slapped former Industry Minister Abdeslam Bouchouareb with a 20-year jail term and issued an arrest warrant for him. Sellal's son, Fares, a shareholder in a auto assembly plant, was handed a three-year jail sentence.

An global arrest warrant has been issued by the same court.

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