Algerian police on Monday arrested the country’s wealthiest man hours after detaining four other business tycoons from a powerful family with links to ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, state television reported.
The five are being investigated for corruption and include Issad Rebrab, the CEO of Algeria’s biggest privately-owned conglomerate Cevital, according to the state broadcaster.
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.
The police arrested Rebrab on Monday morning because he is “suspected of having made fake statements concerning the transfer of funds to and from abroad,” state television said.
Rebrab, it said, was being questioning by an investigating magistrate and would later be referred to court.
Cevital, which he founded, employs 12,000 people and is active in electronics, steel and food, and in recent years acquired business in France.
According to Forbes, Cevital also owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world with the capacity to produce two million tonnes a year.
Earlier 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”.
In its report, state television said he was also suspected of having imported “used equipment” despite enjoying tax and customs breaks made available by authorities for the purchase of new material.
Late Sunday four businessmen from the powerful Kouninef family with links to Bouteflika were arrested, state television said.
Abdelkader, Reda, Karim and Tarek Kouninef were detained in relation to a probe into non-compliance with state contracts, it added.
Prosecutors are investigating “insider influence to obtain undue advantages and misappropriation of real estate”.
The Kouninef family is hugely influential and the four brothers have dealings in everything from agribusiness to civil engineering.
They are said to be close to Said Bouteflika, the younger brother and former advisor of the president who stepped down on April 2 after weeks of mass protests against his 20-year rule.
Rebrab, however, said last month he backed the protest movement.
Army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah earlier this month called on prosecutors to “accelerate the pace” of probes into corrupt tycoons with ties to Bouteflika’s inner circle.
One of Algeria’s top businessmen and a Bouteflika backer, Ali Haddad, was arrested in late March as he 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.
Also on Monday, state television reported that former Bouteflika prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal had been summoned for questioning by a magistrate in connection with the alleged misuse of public funds.
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