Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 26 September 2020

Former Algerian prime ministers in court on corruption charges

Trial is being televised before controversial presidential election

Both men are accused of corruption. Reuters.
Both men are accused of corruption. Reuters.

Two former Algerian prime ministers on Wednesday went on trial on corruption charges in the most high-profile act of accountability since a pro-democracy movement pushed out the long-serving president.

The trial, which is being televised and involves other former Algerian power players, comes amid renewed tension in the country, a week before a controversial election to replace president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Ahmed Ouyahia, who was forced out as prime minister in March as protests against Mr Bouteflika intensified, and his predecessor Abdelmalek Sellal testified at the Sidi M’Hamed court in Algiers.

They are charged with “corruption and the misappropriation of public funds" and both deny any wrongdoing.

Two former industry ministers who served under Mr Bouteflika, car industry executives, bankers and other businessmen are also facing charges.

On December 12, Algerians will vote for a replacement for Mr Bouteflika, who was in office for two decades until forced out in April.

The trial was boycotted by defence lawyers, who felt conditions to provide a fair trial had not been met.

Much of the inquiry involves a car making corruption scandal, allegedly involving huge bribes, inflated invoices and dodgy loans.

Algerian authorities hope the trial helps to convince the public that they are serious about fighting corruption and reforming themselves, and will persuade them to vote next week.

Corruption is a key issue for Algeria’s peaceful, nine-month-old protest movement, which considers the election a sham because it is organised by the existing rulers. Protesters want a new political system.

“Only the people can judge whether we have the will to combat corruption,” Justice Minister Belkacem Zeghmati said before the trial, describing the alleged corruption as “beyond all comprehension".

Mr Bouteflika, whose health has remained a mystery since his stroke in 2013, has not been seen in public since he left power.

Jeune Afrique magazine reported that he is staying in his home in Zeralda under full-time medical care.

Updated: December 5, 2019 12:26 AM

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