Fri, 18 Jun 2021

The Algerian prosecutor's office has requested 20-year prison sentences for several former politicians accused of corruption, including two prime ministers who served under former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, local media reported.

The two ex-premiers are Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal.

The trial is the first resulting from sweeping investigations into fraud allegations launched after Bouteflika stepped down in April in the face of mass protests which erupted in February against his bid for a fifth term.

In all, 19 defendants - two former prime ministers, other prominent ex-politicians and automotive industry tycoons - face charges ranging from money laundering to abuse of office and granting undue privileges.

A similar sentence is requested for former industry minister Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is being tried in absentia as he has fled abroad. The state prosecutor has called for an international arrest warrant to be issued against Bouchouareb.

It is the first time since Algeria's independence from France in 1962 that former prime ministers have been put on trial.

The proceedings have been dominated by accusations of illegal funding during Bouteflika's last election campaign.

The prosecutor on Sunday said the campaign had caused a loss to the public treasury estimated at 110bn.

Ouyahia and Sellal and the other main defendants have denied the accusations against them.

Sellal broke down on Sunday, swearing he had "not betrayed the country".

The former president's jailed brother Said Bouteflika appeared in court on Saturday as a witness but refused to answer questions.

Speaking for the last time before the verdict, the main defendants maintained their innocence.

"I swear I am innocent; I was in charge of the [electoral] campaign for only a week," former public works and transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane said Sunday.

"I was a minister for only two-and-a-half months," said Mahdjoub Bedda, former industry minister.

The trial began on Wednesday and the verdict will be delivered on Tuesday, two days before a contentious presidential election which protesters dismiss as an illegitimate attempt by the establishment to consolidate its power.

Former industry ministers Bedda and Youcef Yousfi each face 15 years in jail, while the prosecution is seeking eight-year prison sentences for the other defendants, according to the Algerian media reports.

The state prosecutor has also demanded that the property of the defendants be seized.

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