Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Algeria postpones landmark corruption trial of two former prime ministers

Defence lawyers boycotted the trial of a number of former ministers saying the conditions for the trial had not been met

Members of Algerian security stand by upon the arrival of security vehicles transporting the accused to Sidi M’hamed court in the capital Algiers ahead of the opening of a corruption trial of former political and business figures, which has now been postponed. AFP
Members of Algerian security stand by upon the arrival of security vehicles transporting the accused to Sidi M’hamed court in the capital Algiers ahead of the opening of a corruption trial of former political and business figures, which has now been postponed. AFP

The landmark trial of a number of people connected to the regime of ousted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, including two former prime ministers, has been postponed after the defence lawyers boycotted it.

According to the Algeria Press Service, the corruption trial of politicians and businessmen was on Monday deferred until December 4, as citizens attended the Sidi M’hamed court in Algiers to see it.

Defence lawyers said that they could not take part in the trial as the conditions had not been met, with some media outlets saying that they had requested a courtroom big enough to accommodate witnesses.

Former prime ministers Abdelmalek Sellal and Ahmed Ouyahia are held on charges of corruption, and former ministers including Youcef Yousfi and former public works and transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane.

Mr Ouyahia, 66, stepped down in March after Mr Bouteflika announced he would not stand in the presidential elections scheduled for the following month, ending his fourth spell as prime minister that began in August 2017. Mr Sellal, 70, replaced Mr Ouyahia as prime minister in 2012 and held the post until May 2017, stepping down briefly in March 2014 to manage Mr Bouteflika's re-election campaign.

Both Mr Ouyahia and Mr Zaalane were taken to the prison of El Harrach on the outskirts of the capital in June.

The former president's brother, Said Bouteflika, is among other leading figures in government and industry jailed recently on charges of corruption. It is widely believed Said Bouteflika held the reins of power in Algeria after the president suffered a 2013 stroke that left him unable to speak clearly, partially paralysed — and rarely seen in public.

Two retired generals who headed top intelligence units also have also been jailed on corruption charges.

The reliable online site TSA Algeria quoted a Justice Ministry statement dated May 26 saying a dozen former high government officials were being investigated for acts concerning "the conclusion of public works contracts contrary to rules and laws in place".

Charges include “abusing the prerogatives of a government position”, “illicit wealth”, “wasting public funds” and “bribery and money laundering”.

The detentions are part of a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that has followed a popular uprising that forced president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82, to resign on April 2 after two decades in office. The weekly protests were launched to oppose Mr Bouteflika's plan to run for another term but the protester are now seeking the removal of an entrenched political class that has held power in Algeria since independence from France in 1962.

Algeria is to hold presidential elections on December 12. Candidates are struggling to fill rally venues, campaign managers have quit, voters have pelted campaign headquarters with tomatoes and eggs, and the country’s 9-month-old pro-democracy movement calls the whole thing a sham.

The five candidates seeking to replace Mr Bouteflika have largely failed to captivate a disillusioned public. Mr Bouteflika was pushed out in April after 20 years in power amid an exceptional, peaceful protest movement, and now demonstrators want a wholesale change of political leadership.

Instead, the election is managed by the long-serving power structure of this oil- and gas-rich country with a strategic role in the Mediterranean region. Instead of new faces, two of the candidates are former prime ministers and one is a loyalist of Algeria’s influential army chief.

Updated: December 3, 2019 05:11 PM

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