* Former vice-president takes over at state oil firm
* He replaces CEO fired after just 18 months
* No reason given for change in personnel
* Reshuffle risks destabilising company: analyst
(Adds analyst in paragraphs 11 & 12)
By Lamine Chikhi and Christian Lowe
ALGIERS, Nov 17 The chief executive of
Algeria's Sonatrach state energy firm, Nourredine Cherouati, was
replaced on Thursday after 18 months in the job.
Abdelhamid Zerguine, a former Sonatrach vice-president for
pipelines, was named as the new chief executive.
"Abdelhamid Zerguine has been installed ... at the head of
Sonatrach," the official APS news agency reported, without
giving a reason for the change.
The report confirmed information from three government
sources who had earlier told Reuters that Cherouati was to be
replaced by Zerguine.
Cherouati was appointed in May 2010 after the previous chief
executive, Mohamed Meziane, was removed as part of a judicial
investigation into corrupt practices in the awarding of
contracts to Sonatrach suppliers.
Cherouati gave a briefing to local media on Wednesday at
which he denied speculation he was to be fired. Newspapers
quoted him as saying the changes he was pushing through were
upsetting certain people and interests.
Sonatrach controls energy exports from Algeria and partners
foreign firms in all the country's oil and gas projects.
The firm was convulsed by last year's corruption allegations
and has also been struggling with ageing infra-structure and a
reluctance by foreign oil majors to invest in new energy
Zerguine is 61 and was until now head of a Sonatrach
subsidiary based in Switzerland. He has been in the company for
over 30 years and also served as an adviser to one of
Sonatrach's previous chief executives.
He becomes the fourth Sonatrach chief executive in two years
after Meziane, caretaker CEO Abdelhafid Feghouli, and Cherouati.
"The change could be necessary, but it also could
destabilize a big company like Sonatrach," said Salah Mouhoubi,
an Algerian academic and specialist on the economy.
"I think Sonatrach needs stability, and changing CEOs once
every year is not good. I am also wondering about how
international companies will read the change ... I am afraid
that it could isolate Sonatrach and Algeria's oil sector."
(Additional reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; writing by Christian
Lowe; editing by William Hardy)