April 29, 2019 / 10:22 AM / 20 days ago

Algerian finance minister, ex-police chief in court amid graft investigations

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria’s finance minister and ex police chief appeared in court on Monday, joining a list of powerful figures to face judicial investigations since mass protests forced the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika this month.

Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal - a former central bank governor who only got the job from Bouteflika last month - appeared in Algiers as part of an investigation into suspected misuse of public funds, state television reported.

Former police chief Abdelghani Hamel, who was sacked last year by Bouteflika for undisclosed reasons, and his son appeared in Tipaza, west of the capital, as part of an investigation into “illegal activities, influence peddling, misappropriation of land and abuse of office”, state TV said.

It is unclear what happened in the courts. Under the Algerian legal system, judges can look into ongoing investigations and decide whether to put people in custody or release them until inquiries are complete.

Loukal and Hamel left court after being questioned by judges, the private television channel Ennahar reported, without providing details.

None of the men or the lawyers defending them made any immediate comment.

Protesters took to the streets in February, calling for the ousting of Bouteflika and the dismantling of the political elite that surrounded his 20-year rule.

Bouteflika resigned on April 2 under pressure from the army, but the protests have continued with calls for a handover to a new, civilian-led government.

At least five billionaires, some of them close to Bouteflika, have been placed in custody, accused of involvement in corruption scandals.

Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, became interim president after Bouteflika’s departure. Presidential elections are scheduled for July 4.

Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; editing by Larry King

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