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Algerian court upholds hefty prison terms for two former prime ministers

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A court in the Algerian capital on Thursday upheld hefty prison sentences against two former prime ministers who served under ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a judicial source said.

The judgment confirmed sentences of 15 years for Ahmed Ouyahia and 12 years for Abdelmalek Sellal that had originally been handed down in December 2019, the source said.

The two were convicted in a corruption trial centring on the country’s auto sector and the covert financing of an aborted 2019 re-election bid by the ailing Bouteflika, who resigned in April that year amid mass protests.

The two men were retried after the supreme court in November annulled their earlier convictions following an appeal.

During the retrial in early January, Ouyahia admitted to receiving gold bars from Gulf donors then selling them on the black market, Algeria’s official news agency reported.

Ouyahia said he had previously kept quiet about the matter so as “not to undermine the relations between Algeria and certain friendly countries”.

The automobile scandal, in which several businessmen were also convicted, cost the public purse an estimated 128 billion dinars (about $ 1 billion today).

Ouyahia was prime minister four times between 1995 and 2019. Sellal served from 2012 to 2017 and managed four of Bouteflika’s election campaigns.

The trial of the two former premiers in December 2019 was the first in a series of high-profile corruption cases launched after Bouteflika resigned after 20 years at the helm.

It was also the first time since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962 that former prime ministers had been put on trial.

Score settling?

But observers believe that convictions of former political figures and businessmen since Bouteflika stepped down amount more to internal score settling among the elite than a reflection of meaningful reform.

The protest movement that forced his resignation kept up its demonstrations long after his departure from power, before eventually stopping early last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A prisoners’ rights group says more than 90 people, including activists, social media users and journalists, are currently in custody in connection with that movement.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, another former prime minister under Bouteflika, became president in late 2019, in a poll boycotted by the protesters. Official data put the turnout at only around 40 percent.

Tebboune is currently in hospital in Germany, after suffering complications related to his infection with coronavirus late last year.

(AFP)

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