Showpiece Graft Trial Lands Algerian Ex-Leader’s Allies in Jail

An Algerian court sentenced four members of a tycoon family close to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to prison for corruption, in a high-profile case meant to show the OPEC member’s commitment to reform before a restive and skeptical public.

The case ensnared Redha, Abdelkader-Karim and Tarek-Noah Kouninef, who hold senior roles in the Kougc Group, a once-small construction company that grew into a powerhouse during Bouteflika’s two decades at Algeria’s helm. They were sentenced to between 12 and 16 years, while their sister, Souad Nour, was handed 20 years in absentia, Ennahar TV reported.

The trial, along with others targeting Bouteflika-era businessmen and politicians, is key for Algeria’s new leaders. While President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has promised to fight corruption and recover embezzled funds, authorities are struggling to dampen simmering unrest as economic conditions deteriorate, while the military-led elite are seen holding onto a decades-old political system built on cronyism.

A show of force against graft will be a sign of good faith to government critics, who were forced in March by a coronavirus lockdown to suspend protests that continued after Bouteflika resigned in April 2019. Those demonstrations are expected to resume once restrictions are relaxed in main cities, at an as-yet unspecified date.

The court in Algiers on Wednesday convicted the family members of amassing enormous wealth through state contracts and loans obtained illicitly, mostly with the help of their decades-long link to octogenarian Bouteflika. They were found guilty of corruption, breach of contract and illegal profiteering, and their assets ordered seized. The sentences can be appealed.

The Bouteflika and Kouninef families drew close after the patriarch of the business family, Ahmed, gave the future Algerian leader a home to stay in in Switzerland, where he had fled in the 1980s following embezzlement allegations.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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