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Five Algerian billionaires arrested in anti-graft investigation

By Reuters - Apr 22,2019 - Last updated at Apr 22,2019

Demonstrators hold banners as they return to the streets to press demands for wholesale democratic changes, well beyond former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's resignation, in Algiers, Algeria, on Friday (Reuters photo)

ALGIERS — Five Algerian billionaires, some of them close to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika who quit over mass protests, have been arrested as part of an anti-graft investigation, state TV said on Monday.

They were later brought to court to face charges from the general prosecutor's office, the private Ennahar TV channel said, a legal requirement after an arrest. Further details were not immediately available.

The five are Issad Rebrab, considered the richest businessman in the energy-rich north African nation who is especially active in the food and sugar refining business, and four brothers from the Kouninef family, it said.

Rebrab is chairman of the family-owned Cevital company, which imports raw sugar from Brazil and exports white sugar to Tunisia, Libya and other destinations in the Middle East.

The Kouninef family is close to Bouteflika, who ruled Algeria for 20 years. Bouteflika stepped down three weeks ago, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations by mainly younger Algerians seeking change.

There was no immediate statement from those arrested.

The move came after Algeria's army chief, Lt. Gen. Gaid Salah, said last week he expected members of the ruling elite in the country to be prosecuted for corruption.

An Algerian court has already summoned former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, two close associates of Bouteflika, in an investigation into suspected misuse of public money, state TV said on Saturday.

Mass protests, which began on February 22 and have been largely peaceful, have continued after Bouteflika's resignation as many want the removal of the entire elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962. They also want the prosecution of people they see as corrupt. 

Bouteflika has been replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, as interim president for 90 days until a presidential election is held on July 4.

Hundreds of thousands protested on Friday to demand the resignation of Bensalah and other top officials.

Bensalah invited civil society and political parties on Monday to discuss the transition to elections but several parties and activists said they would not participate.

The army has so far patiently monitored the mostly peaceful protests that at times have swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. It remains the most powerful institution in Algeria, having swayed politics from the shadows for decades.

Salah said on April 16 that the military was considering all options to resolve the political crisis and warned that "time is running out".

It was a hint that the military was losing patience with the popular upheaval shaking Algeria, a major oil and natural-gas exporter and an important security partner for the West against Islamist militants in north and west Africa.

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