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Algeria jails 14, fines foreign firms in corruption case


algeria mapAn Algerian court on Thursday sentenced to jail 14 people and fined seven foreign firms from Europe, Asia and Canada capping a high-profile corruption case.

Dubbed by Algerian media as the “scandal of the century”, the case heard allegations of corruption, money laundering and embezzlement of public funds in connection with the construction of a key highway.

The Algiers criminal court sentenced to 10 years Chani Mejdoub, a financial consultant who also holds Luxembourg nationality, and Mohamed Khelladi, a former high-ranking official at the ministry of public works.

The pair — who have already been behind bars for several years — were also ordered to pay a fine of 30,000 million euros ($33.8 million) each and the court seized their property.

A businessman and another former official at the public works ministry were sentenced to seven years in jail each.

Three-year jail sentences were handed to two other defendants, including a former secret service colonel who also worked for the justice ministry.

Eight defendants were give a one-year suspended sentence each, while two others were acquitted.

Seven firms — including from China, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Spain and Portugal — were each fined 50,000 euros ($56.4 million)

Work on the motorway started in 2006 and was scheduled to last four years at a total cost then of $6 billion.

But the construction, allocated to a consortium from Japan and another from China, has yet to be completed.

Officials said the cost has risen to $13 billion while other sources put the final bill at $17 billion.

Press reports have said bribes worth $5 billion were paid during the construction of the 1,200-kilometre (730-mile) east-west highway which runs through northern Algeria.

During the trial a defendant accused former public works minister Amar Ghoul — who currently holds the transport portfolio — of having pocketed a quarter of the kickbacks, a claim denied by Ghoul.

Similar allegations were made against former justice minister and foreign minister Mohamed Bedjaoui.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika considered the highway one of his flagship projects but the press has branded it the “scandal of the century”.

The corruption trial had opened in mid-April, the second of its kind since March when an Algerian court began hearing another case of former executives at Algeria’s state energy giant Sonatrach, also involving foreign firms.

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