June 13, 2019 / 10:20 AM / 2 months ago

Algerian ex-PM Sellal arrested over graft allegation -state TV

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria’s supreme court on Thursday remanded ex-prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal in custody over graft allegations, state TV said, in a crackdown on alleged corruption and cronyism among associates of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

FILE PHOTO: Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal arrives for the 28th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The court later ordered the detention of former trade minister Amara Benyounes over his alleged involvement in corruption scandals, private channel Ennahar TV reported, without elaborating.

Sellal is one of the closest Bouteflika associates to be detained since mass protests broke out in February, demanding the prosecution of people that protesters regarded as corrupt as well as sweeping democratic change.

Sellal, who left office in a May 2017 cabinet reshuffle after serving as premier and Bouteflika’s campaign manager several times, is under investigation over “dissipation of public funds”, state television said.

Thei lawyers were not available for comment.

Benyounes, who served under Sellal from April 2014 to July 2015, is also leader of the pro-government party the Algerian Popular Movement.

State television also said police had arrested Mourad Eulmi, head of the private firm SOVAC, a partner of Germany’s Volkswagen AG, at a car assembly plant in the western province of Relizane in connection with “corruption cases”. It did not elaborate. Volkswagen declined to comment.

SOVAC and Volkswagen signed a $170 million deal in 2016 to set up a joint venture, with SOVAC holding a majority stake, to assemble vehicles under the Volkswagen, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, SEAT and Skoda brands.

On Wednesday, the supreme court had ordered the detention of another former prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, for alleged involvement in corruption, including “awarding illegal privileges and dissipation of public funds”.

A judge at the supreme court confiscated the passport of former transport and public works minister Abdelghani Zaalane and ordered him to show up at the court once a month, state TV reported on Thursday, after saying on Wednesday he was detained.

Bouteflika stepped down on April 2 under pressure from the army, which is now the main decision-maker. Its chief of staff, Ahmed Gaed Salah, has urged the courts to speed up prosecution of people suspected of involvement in corruption.

Bouteflika’s youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs have been placed in custody by a military judge for “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority”, according to state television.

Several prominent businessmen, some of them close to Bouteflika, have been detained pending trial.

Protesters are now seeking the departure of Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, both seen as part of the elite that has ruled Algeria since independence from France in 1962.

Authorities have postponed a presidential election previously planned for July 4, citing a lack of candidates. No new date has been set for the vote.

Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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