This week, Algeria experienced a series of court decisions that have accelerated the fight against corruption. Sentences have been issued and new arrests were made. But the focus on the Bouteflika-era ministers and senior figures is evidence that the campaign is likely a continuation of a purge against former regime operatives, instead of a pure anti-crime campaign. Here are the main events of this week:
Former presidential hopeful Azzedine Mihoubi faces major legal challenge in the coming weeks
Azzedine Mihoubi, the former candidate for the presidential election of 12 December 2019 and former Minister of Culture between 2015 and 2019, was summoned on 7 December by an examining magistrate at the Bir Mourad Rais court in Algiers, to be questioned on several cases related to practices of squandering public funds and illicit privileges in several projects funded by the Ministry of Culture during his tenure. In particular, Mihoubi is implicated in the case of movie director and producer Samira Hadj Djilani who is prosecuted for money laundering and the embezzlement of public funds.
Judicial sources say Hadj-Djilani’s media company Sarl Espace-Rencontre produced a history film titled ‘El-Hadj Ahmed Bey,’ which had raised controversy over cost, sources of funding, and the film’s screen rights. She is accused of having benefited from subsidies from the Ministry of Culture, in what could have been an alleged move by the then minister Mihoubi to funnel cash to her. Hadj Djilani was spotted accompanying the presidential hopeful during the electoral campaign of late last year and acted as his director of communications.
For now, Mihoubi is summoned as a witness, but judging by the way Algerian tribunals operate, he risks being charged in the next stages of the investigation.
Beside the issue of corruption, Mihoubi is also facing the reality of partisan politics in Algeria. Last year, he gathered a controversial group of supporters, most of whom are currently in prison for various offenses. The group that supported Mihoubi launched brutal media attacks against current president, the then candidate Abdelmadjid Tebboune, in an effort to propel candidate Mihoubi. But their efforts ultimately failed after the intervention of the late army chief, General Gaid Salah, who favored Tebboune. Among those who campaigned against Tebboune, both covertly and in public, are the former head of domestic intelligence, General Ouassini Bouazza and the owner of media and propaganda network, Yanis Rahmani.
Former governor of Algiers convicted of corruption, sentenced to five years in prison
On Tuesday, 8 December 2020, the former governor of the province of Algiers was arrested following a Tipasa court verdict convicting him of several crimes. Abdelkader Zoukh was found guilty in three cases related to the granting of land to the children and wife of Abdelghani Hamel and oligarchs Ali Haddad and Mahieddine Tahkout, both of whom are also in prison, serving heavy sentences. Three trials were conducted separately as different cases. Zoukh was found guilty of granting illicit benefits and the squandering public land to benefit his friends. Zoukh was Algiers’ provincial governor between 2013 and 2019. Previously, he held the same position in the northeastern region of Sétif, as well as Oran.
Zoukh has been interviewed by Supreme Court judges several times over the past months in anti-corruption investigations targeting former senior officials under president Bouteflika. Until recently, he has been one of the few defendants to escape prison, being placed under judicial supervision after each hearing. Sources say he has been protected by many intelligence and army officers, who allegedly received favors from the governor such as land and real estate in Algiers. The five-year sentence is most likely a compromise reached to prevent him from disclosing the names of senior officials who may have benefited from his largesse but are still active.
Former telecom and industry ministers arrested in more corruption cases during Bouteflika reign
A criminal court in Algiers ordered the arrest of two former ministers who headed the Post and Telecoms and Industry and Mines departments during the reign of ousted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The two ministers, Houda Feraoun and Djamila Tamazirt, were ordered in police custody shortly after they appearance before the indictment chamber of the Algiers court. They have been implicated in severe cases of corruption. In March 2020, the Attorney General at the Supreme Court indicated that the two ministers are implicated in at least six corruption cases, along with two other unnamed ministers. The cases have been transferred to the Algiers court to pursue legal Proceedings.
Ms. Houda Feraoun is being prosecuted in a case linked to state-owned telecommunications firm Algérie Télécom (AT). Charges against her include infringements on legislative and regulatory provisions, the granting of undue advantages to others during the awarding of public contracts, the squandering of public funds and abuse of function. For her part, former Industry Minister Tamazirt is tied to the corruption case of a Corso industrial zone, with charges of abuse of power to grant undue privileges in violation of laws and regulations, the granting of undue advantages during the awarding of public contracts, the willful squandering and embezzlement of public funds in the performance of government duty, influence peddling, conflict of interest, false declaration of assets, money laundering and income generation derived from criminality and corruption”.
Former senior parliament official and son of ex-chief of ruling FLN party sentenced to seven years in prison for trading MP seats
Symbolizing the decadence of the Algerian political system during the chaotic reign of deposed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, former VP of the National Assembly and member of parliament, Baha Eddine Tliba was sentenced to seven years in prison during an appeal’s hearing. The court reduced his sentence by one year. Also sentenced was the son of the former head of ruling FLN party, Djamel Ould Abbas, Skandar, after he was found guilty of selling parliament seats. By his own recognition, Tliba was one of the buyers of such seat.
During the trial, Tliba testified that Ould Abbas’ children demanded the sum of DZD 70 million for him to appear as head of the FLN list in Annaba during the 2017 legislative elections. After having fled Algeria late last year, an arrest warrant was issued against him while he was in Tunisia. It is unclear whether Tliba was extradited by the Tunisian government or he was captured and brought back by Algeria agents.
Tliba and Ould Abbas were also tried for the violation of foreign exchange regulations and the movement of capital from Algeria to abroad. The Algiers court upheld the trial verdict against Djamel Ould Abbas’s other fugitive son, El Ouafi, who had been sentenced to 20 years in absentia. An arrest warrant was issued against him.