Algeria Arrests Major Businessmen in Corruption Probe

Tuesday, 23 April, 2019 - 05:30
Asharq Al-Awsat

Algerian authorities arrested on Monday five major businessmen as part of an anti-graft investigation.

They were later brought to court to face charges from the general prosecutor’s office, private Ennahar TV channel said, a legal requirement after an arrest.

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.

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 Kouninef family is close to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who ruled Algeria for 20 years.

Abdelkader, Reda, Karim and Tarek Kouninef were detained in relation to a probe into non-compliance with state contracts, state television said. Prosecutors are investigating "insider influence to obtain undue advantages and misappropriation of real estate".

Bouteflika stepped down three weeks ago, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations by mainly younger Algerians seeking change.

State television said Rebrab has gone before the public prosecutor over alleged "over-billing" and "misrepresentation of the movement of capital" among other charges. He denies the allegations.

Rebrab was known for his opposition to Bouteflika, but his wealth grew significantly during the former president’s term.

The high-profile arrests are part of an investigation into corruption targeting some 51 businessmen who are currently banned from leaving the North African country.

Army chief Ahmed Gaed Salah earlier this month called on prosecutors to "accelerate the pace" of probes into corrupt tycoons with ties to Bouteflika's inner circle.

One of Algeria's top businessmen and a Bouteflika backer, Ali Haddad, was arrested in late March as he tried to cross the border into Tunisia with two passports and undeclared currency.

Also on Monday, state television reported that former Bouteflika prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal had been summoned for questioning by a magistrate in connection with the alleged misuse of public funds.

A judge revealed that courts had received “strict” orders from the military command to persecute any individual, regardless of their rank, should corruption suspicions surround him.

The family of Bouteflika is suspected of corruption. The former president’s brother, Said, is also highly suspected of corruption and abuse of authority and likely to be charged soon.

MP Mohcine Belabbas questioned, however, the credibility of the anti-graft probe, saying the corruption that has been rampant for 20 years demands that judges summon all officials, starting with Abdelaziz Bouteflika and former intelligence chief Mohamed Mediene.

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