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Algerian Court Jails 2 Ex-Prime Ministers Over Corruption

Algerian Court Jails 2 Ex-Prime Ministers Over Corruption

Tuesday, 10 December, 2019 - 10:15
Former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia | Photo: Reuters

Two former prime ministers of Algeria have been convicted and sentenced to prison for corruption-related charges in a landmark trial.


Cheers rose from a crowd of pro-democracy activists who gathered outside the courthouse in Algiers Tuesday to hear the verdict against Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal.


Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years in prison and $16,000 in fines. Sellal was sentenced to 12 years in prison and $8,000 in fines. They were accused of abusing authority in a car manufacturing embezzlement scandal.

Both served under longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. They denied all charges, including "misappropriation of public funds, abuse of power, and granting undue privileges".


Unusually, the trial was televised, as authorities sought to show the public that they are taking protesters’ concerns about corruption seriously.


It was the most high-profile corruption conviction since the peaceful protest movement began in February.


The court in Algiers also handed 10-year prison terms to two former industry ministers, and sentences ranging from three to seven years to five prominent businessmen.


Many former senior officials have been in detention as the army seeks to quell mass protests that began in February demanding the prosecution of people involved in corruption and the removal of the ruling elite.

Protesters pushed out Bouteflika earlier this year in part because of anger at corruption.


Some protesters shouted “Gang of gangsters!” and many waved or wore Algerian flags. Police surrounded the courthouse because so many protesters were trying to get into the building see the trial in person.


Demonstrators say Thursday's election will not be fair because some of Bouteflika's allies are still in power.


The army has said the vote will be fair and an election is the only way to get out of the crisis.


Tuesday's verdict is linked to corruption in the car assembly business and "hidden financing" of Bouteflika's campaign for a fifth five-year term in an election that was scrapped earlier this year.


Among the businessmen jailed was Ali Haddad, a former chief of Algeria's largest business association, who was imprisoned for seven years. Former transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane was the only defendant acquitted.


All those on trial were allies of Bouteflika and denied the charges. Sellal's son, Fares, a shareholder in a car assembly plant, was handed a three-year jail sentence.


The court also issued a 20-year prison sentence in absentia to former industry minister Abdesslam Bouchouareb, who is abroad. An international arrest warrant has been issued by the same court.


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