Algeria’s former prime minister in court for corruption probe

Ouyahia was summoned by prosecutors on April 20, as was finance minister Mohamed Loukal [File: Zohra Bensemra/Reuters]

Algeria‘s former prime minister has appeared before a court to answer questions relating to a corruption probe implicating several associates of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, local media reported.

Footage of Ahmed Ouyahia, who served as Algeria’s prime minister four times, entering the court in central Algiers was broadcast by several private television stations on Tuesday.

The 66-year-old joins a growing list of politicians and businessmen that are being investigated following Bouteflika’s resignation in early April, following weeks of massive protests.

Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal was questioned a day earlier at the same court over the misuse of public funds.

Meanwhile, a court in Tipaza, a town roughly 80km west of Algiers, questioned former police chief Abdelghani Hamel as part of a judicial inquiry into alleged bribery.

Both Loukal, a former central bank governor who was promoted last month by Bouteflika, and Ouyahia were summoned on April 20 by prosecutors.

Separately on April 22, five billionaires were arrested on charges ranging from illegally transferring large sums of money internationally to exploiting their proximity to the former head of state to win lucrative state contracts.

They include: Issad Rebrab, who is considered Algeria’s richest man, Ali Haddad, who was stopped at a border checkpoint as he tried to cross into neighbouring Tunisia, and the Kouninef brothers.

Army chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaid Salah said on Tuesday that the corruption cases and trials taking place would be revealed to the public.

The North African country, a major oil and gas producer, has been rocked by a wave of protests over rampant corruption and high youth unemployment.

Amel Boubekeur, a research fellow at the Paris-based School for Advanced Studies, however, said the reason behind the anti-corruption drive was likely an attempt by Gaid Salah to settle old scores.

“The army and secret services have always used anti-corruption campaigns as a warning to Bouteflika’s clients when it was sensed that they became too influential,” Boubekeur said.

“In the last 10 years, we had the Chakib Khelil affairs, named after the ex-energy minister, we had the corruption investigation looking into the east-west highway construction … These never led to any arrests or new clean practices within the regime’s ranks.”

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