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

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.


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 25 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.