Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

Algerian Army head praises corruption crackdown as richest man among arrested

Forbes magazine estimates Issad Rebrab net worth to be $3.38 billion

Algerian entrepreneur and CEO of CEVITAL industrial group Issad Rebrab poses for a photo in Algiers on May 8, 2016. AFP
Algerian entrepreneur and CEO of CEVITAL industrial group Issad Rebrab poses for a photo in Algiers on May 8, 2016. AFP

Algeria's army chief said on Tuesday he welcomed an anti-graft drive against figures close to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, state TV reported, a day after the authorities announced the arrest of five business tycoons.

Mr Bouteflika quit on April 2 after mass protests against his two-decade rule, in which demonstrators accused him of allowing widespread corruption in the Algerian political elite.

Army Chief Lt Gen Ahmed Gaid Salah, played a role in Mr Bouteflika's resignation by calling for him to be removed from office, and has since called for a crackdown on corruption.

On Monday state television reported the arrest of billionaire Issad Rebrab, chairman of the family-owned Cevital diversified conglomerate with big interests in sugar refining. Four brothers from the wealthy Kouninef family were also arrested.

News of his arrest came as thousands of students thronged through the capital's streets calling for the overthrow of the "system" and for trials against members of the deposed leader's inner circle.

Mr Rebrab, the 74-year old chief executive of Algeria's biggest privately-owned conglomerate, was placed in detention overnight. Forbes magazine lists Rebrab as Algeria's richest man and the sixth-wealthiest in Africa, with a net worth of $3.38 billion in 2019.

He is "suspected of having made fake statements concerning the transfer of funds to and from abroad," APS reported.

He is also suspected of having imported "used equipment" despite enjoying tax and customs breaks made available by authorities for the purchase of new material.

On Monday, Mr Rebrab tweeted that he had gone voluntarily to a police station to discuss "equipment that has been held up at the Algiers port since June 2018."

Cevital, which he founded, employs 18,000 people and is active in electronics, steel and food, and in recent years acquired businesses in France.

According to Forbes, Cevital also owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world with the capacity to produce two million tonnes a year.

But while his business activities may have flourished under Mr Bouteflika's rule, Mr Rebrab has had a tense relationship with the ruling circle.

In open conflict with Algerian authorities since 2015, he has accused them of blocking his investments in the country and last month threw his support behind the anti-Bouteflika protests.

The arrests come after Lt Gen Gaid Salah called on prosecutors to "accelerate the pace" of corruption probes into those with ties to Bouteflika's inner circle.

Late Sunday four brothers from the influential Kouninef family were arrested, according to state television, in relation to a probe into non-compliance with state contracts.

Prosecutors are investigating "insider influence to obtain undue advantages and misappropriation of real estate," according to the broadcaster.

Abdelkader, Reda, Karim and Tarek Kouninef have dealings in everything from agribusiness to civil engineering.

The family is said to be close to Said Bouteflika, the younger brother and former advisor of the deposed leader.

The latest developments follow the arrest late last month of Ali Haddad, one of Algeria's top businessmen and a Bouteflika backer, who had tried to cross the border into Tunisia with two passports and undeclared currency.

The day after he was detained, prosecutors announced graft probes into unnamed individuals and banned corruption suspects from leaving the country.

Algerian media has reported around a dozen businessmen are under investigation, all with ties to Bouteflika's entourage.

Updated: April 23, 2019 08:27 PM

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