Algeria finance minister questioned in fraud probe -state TV

Since his resignation in April, several officials and businessmen close to him have been sacked or questioned over alleged graft.
Algeria minister

Algerian finance minister, Mohamed Loukal, was questioned by a prosecutor on Monday in an investigation into alleged corruption including the misuse of public funds, state television reported.

Former police chief, Abdelghani Hamel was also questioned separately by a prosecutor as part of a judicial inquiry into alleged bribery, the state broadcaster said.

Since Bouteflika resigned in early April after weeks of mass protests against his rule, several regime officials and businessmen close to him have been sacked, detained or questioned over alleged graft.

Loukal, a former central bank governor, was appointed finance minister at the end of March when Bouteflika, facing massive pressure from demonstrators demanding change, named a new prime minister.

A week ago, Loukal and former premier, Ahmed Ouyahia, were summoned for questioning but it was not clear if they would be heard as suspects or witnesses.

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State television said Loukal was being questioned in cases concerning “misuse of public funds and undue advantages”. It did not elaborate.

Hamel, who was once tipped as Bouteflika’s successor before he was fired by the veteran leader in June 2018, appeared in a court in Tipaza, west of Algiers, along with his son, the television said.

They are being interrogated as part of a probe into “illegal activity, bribery, embezzlement of funds and abuse of power”, it said.

Since Bouteflika’s ouster, investigators have cracked down on alleged graft, zeroing in on the activities of prominent politicians and businessmen following two decades of cronyism under the former president.

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High-profile figures targeted over the past week include the North African country’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, who was detained on allegations of false customs declarations.

The head of the vast state oil firm Sonatrach, Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour, has been fired and replaced on the orders of interim president, Abdelkader Bensalah.

Four brothers from the influential Kouninef family, close to Bouteflika’s brother, Said, have been arrested over alleged non-compliance with state contracts, according to official media.

After pushing Bouteflika to quit with mass demonstrations launched on February 22, protesters have kept up their rallies, calling for a complete overhaul of Algeria’s political system, improved living standards and the eradication of corruption. 

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Algeria ranks 105 out of 180 on the corruption perception index of Transparency International for 2018.

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