Algeria’s army chief hails judiciary for anti-graft move

Algerians are demanding a system that is committed to fighting the corruption that has plagued the country for decades. (AFP)
Updated 23 April 2019
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Algeria’s army chief hails judiciary for anti-graft move

  • Demonstrators accuse Bouteflika of allowing widespread corruption in country

ALGIERS: Algeria’s army chief said on Tuesday he welcomed an anti-graft drive against figures close to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, state TV reported, a day after the authorities announced the arrest of five business tycoons.

Bouteflika quit on April 2 after mass protests against his two-decade rule, in which protesters accused him of allowing widespread corruption in the Algerian political elite.

Army Chief Ahmed Gaid Salah played a role in Bouteflika’s resignation by calling for him to be removed from office, and has since called for a crackdown on corruption.

On Monday, Algeria’s richest man Issad Rebrab was detained on the public prosecutor’s orders. News of his arrest came as thousands of students thronged through the capital’s streets calling for trials against members of the deposed leader’s inner circle.

Rebrab, the 74-year-old chief executive of Algeria’s biggest privately-owned conglomerate Cevital, was placed in detention overnight according to the APS news agency.

Forbes magazine lists Rebrab as Algeria’s richest man and the sixth-wealthiest in Africa, with a net worth of $3.38 billion in 2019.

He is “suspected of having made fake statements concerning the transfer of funds to and from abroad,” APS reported.

He is also suspected of having imported “used equipment” despite enjoying tax and customs breaks made available by authorities for the purchase of new material.

On Monday, Rebrab tweeted that he had gone voluntarily to a police station to discuss “equipment that has been held up at the Algiers port since June 2018.”

Cevital, which he founded, employs 18,000 people and is active in electronics, steel and food, and in recent years acquired businesses in France.

According to Forbes, Cevital also owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world with the capacity to produce 2 million tons a year.

But while his business activities may have flourished under Bouteflika’s rule, Rebrab has had a tense relationship with the ruling circle.

In open conflict with Algerian authorities since 2015, he has accused them of blocking his investments in the country and last month threw his support behind the anti-Bouteflika protests. Rebrab is one of a number of tycoons detained in graft investigations since the president stepped down. The arrests come after Salah called on prosecutors to “accelerate the pace” of corruption probes into those with ties to Bouteflika’s inner circle. Late Sunday, four brothers from the influential Kouninef family were arrested, according to state television, in relation to a probe into non-compliance with state contracts.

Prosecutors are investigating “insider influence to obtain undue advantages and misappropriation of real estate,” according to the broadcaster.

Abdelkader, Reda, Karim and Tarek Kouninef have dealings in everything from agribusiness to civil engineering.

The family is said to be close to Said Bouteflika, the younger brother and former adviser of the deposed leader.

Crowds of students gathered in the heart of the capital Tuesday. “We want a new system that is committed to fighting the corruption that has plagued the country,” said Hamid, a finance student in Algiers.

On Monday state television reported the current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, and former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia had been summoned for questioning by a magistrate in connection with the alleged misuse of public funds.

The latest developments follow the arrest late last month of Ali Haddad, one of Algeria’s top businessmen and a Bouteflika backer, who had tried to cross the border into Tunisia with two passports and undeclared currency.

The day after he was detained, prosecutors announced graft probes into unnamed individuals and banned corruption suspects from leaving the country.

Algerian media has reported around a dozen businessmen are under investigation, all with ties to Bouteflika’s entourage.


Air raids kill 12 civilians in militant-held Syrian town: monitor

Updated 22 May 2019
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Air raids kill 12 civilians in militant-held Syrian town: monitor

  • The militant-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal
  • The Observatory said they have no proof of the chemical attacks

BEIRUT: Air strikes by Damascus or its ally Moscow killed 12 civilians in a market in Syria’s Idlib province, a monitor said Wednesday, and denied allegations that the government used chemical weapons.

Another 18 people were wounded when the warplanes hit the militant-held town of Maarat Al-Numan around midnight on Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The market was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

The Observatory said it had no evidence to suggest the Syrian army had carried out a new chemical attack despite Washington’s announcement it had suspicions.

“We have no proof at all of the attack,” Rami Abdul Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told AFP.

“We have not documented any chemical attack in the mountains of Latakia,” he said.
The air strikes in Idlib came as heavy clashes raged in the north of neighboring Hama province after the militants launched a counterattack on Tuesday against pro-government forces in the town of Kafr Nabuda.
Fresh fighting on Wednesday took the death toll to 52 — 29 troops and militia and 23 militants, the Observatory said.
It said that the militants had retaken most of the town from government forces who recaptured it on May 8.
The militant-dominated Idlib region is nominally protected by a buffer zone deal, but the regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment of it in recent weeks, seizing several towns on its southern flank.
A militant alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, controls a large part of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Aleppo, Hama and Latakia provinces.

The northern mountains are the only part of Latakia province, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast, that are not firmly in the hands of the government.

The Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham accused government forces on Sunday of launching a chlorine gas attack on its fighters in the north of Latakia province.

The Syrian army dismissed the reports as a fabrication, a military source told the pro-government Al-Watan newspaper.

But the US State Department said on Tuesday it was assessing indications that the government of president Bashar Assad used chemical weapons on Sunday.

“There were no civilians in the area,” Abdel Rahman said.

White Helmets rescue volunteers, who have reported past chemical attacks in rebel-held areas of Syria, told AFP Wednesday that they had no information on the purported gas attack.

International inspectors say Assad’s forces have carried out a series of chemical attacks during the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.
Russia and rebel ally Turkey inked the buffer zone deal in September to avert a government offensive on the region which threatened humanitarian disaster for its three million residents.
President Bashar Assad’s government has renewed its bombardment of the region since HTS took control in January.
Russia too has stepped up its air strikes in recent weeks as Turkey proved unable to secure implementation of the truce deal by the militants.
The Observatory says more than 180 civilians have been killed in the flare-up since April 30, and the United Nations has said tens of thousands have fled their homes.