ALGERIA: 5 billionaires arrested as part of anti-corruption drive

ALGIERS-Algerian authorities have arrested five billionaires as part of an anti-graft investigation, State TV reported.

Issad Rebrab, the founder and CEO of Cevital, Algeria’s biggest privately held company, was arrested on Monday alongside four brothers from the Kouninef family.

Reda, Abdelkader, Karim and Tarek Kouninef are believed to be part of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s inner circle while Rebrab, owner of the critical Liberte newspaper, opposed the president’s 2014  reelection.

Rebrab however denied the arrest in a tweet shortly after the announcement was made, saying he voluntarily answered the police’s call to give evidence on a case involving industrial equipment authorities had seized from him in June 2018.

The move came after Algeria’s army chief, Lieutenant General Gaid Salah, announced last week that members of the ruling elite in the major oil and natural gas-producing country, would be prosecuted for corruption.

An Algerian court has already summoned former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, two close associates of Bouteflika, in a investigation into suspected misuse of public money, state TV said on Saturday.

Authorities also arrested prominent businessman Ali Haddad in early April.

One of the country’s richest men, Haddad was caught trying to cross into neighbouring Tunisia with large sums of money.

Bouteflika stepped down two weeks ago after 20 years in power, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations by mainly younger Algerians seeking change.

Demonstrators in the North African country want a new generation of leaders to replace a ruling elite seen by many ordinary Algerians as out of touch and unable to jump-start a faltering economy hampered by cronyism.

Bouteflika has been replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, as interim president for 90 days until a presidential election is held on July 4.

Hundreds of thousands protested on Friday to demand the resignation of Bensalah, the ninth consecutive week of demonstrations.