Algeria ex-PM questioned in widening probe into longtime elite

Algeria ex-PM questioned in widening probe into longtime elite
3 min read
30 April, 2019
Algeria's state television showed former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia enter the courthouse on Tuesday, as part of a widening investigation into alleged corruption.
Algeria is witnessing an investigation into alleged corruption including the misuse of public funds [Getty]

Former Algerian prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia was questioned regarding a widening investigation into alleged corruption in the inner circle of ousted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, state television reported on Tuesday.

Private television channels broadcast footage of the unpopular Ouyahia arriving in mid-morning at the courthouse in the centre of the capital Algiers.

He is the latest prominent figure to be caught up in the widening fraud probe launched by prosecutors since the ailing Bouteflika was forced to step down in early April following weeks of mass protests.

Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, a former central bank governor, was questioned at the same Algiers court on Monday over suspicions of the "squandering" of public funds.

Ouyahia and Loukal were both summoned on 20 April for questioning by prosecutors.

Ouyahia served four times as prime minister from 1995, three of them during Bouteflika's two-decade rule.

He was finally abandoned by his longtime master on 11 March in a last-ditch bid to hang on to power.

Loukal was appointed finance minister at the end of March after Bouteflika named Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui to replace Ouyahia as prime minister.

Former police chief Abdelghani Hamel was also questioned separately on Monday as part of a judicial inquiry into alleged bribery, state media said.

Hamel - once tipped as Bouteflika's successor before he was fired by the veteran leader in June last year - appeared in a court in Tipaza, west of Algiers, before being released, the official APS news agency said.

They are being interrogated as part of a probe into "illegal activity, bribery, embezzlement of funds and abuse of power", reports said.

Since Bouteflika's ouster, investigators have cracked down on alleged graft, zeroing in on the activities of prominent politicians and businessmen following two decades of cronyism under the former president.

High-profile figures targeted over the past week include the North African country's richest man, Issad Rebrab, who was detained on allegations of false customs declarations.

The head of the vast state oil firm Sonatrach, Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour, has been fired and replaced on the orders of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah.

Earlier this month, five Algerian billionaires were arrested as part of the anti-corruption investigation.

The five include tycoon Issad Rebrab, ranked the richest businessman in the major oil and natural gas-producing country who is especially active in the food and sugar refining business.

Four brothers from the wealthy Kouninef family were also detained.

Rebrab is CEO of the family-owned Cevital conglomerate, which imports raw sugar from Brazil and exports white sugar to neighbouring Tunisia and Libya, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The Kouninef family is close to the ousted president.

The move came one week after Algeria's army chief, Lieutenant General Gaid Salah, said he expected members of the ruling elite in Algeria to be prosecuted for corruption.

After pushing Bouteflika to quit with mass demonstrations launched on 22 February, protesters have kept up their rallies, calling for a complete overhaul of Algeria's political system, improved living standards and the eradication of corruption. 

Algeria ranks 105 out of 180 on the corruption perception index of Transparency International for 2018.

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