By Hana Saada

Algeria: president bouteflika’s brother, ex-intelligence chiefs and ex-defense minister given lengthy prison terms over conspiracy charges

September 28, 2019 - 17:3

ALGERIA - Following the two-day trial, the military court, located in Blida, South of the Algerian capital Algiers, announced its verdicts with respect to the unprecedented case for plotting against the Algerian Army and state, involving figureheads of the ruling elite, including the former President brother and Advisor, two former intelligence Chiefs and former Defense Minister.

The Blida’s military court, found all the defendants, symbols of the old guard, guilty, namely; Said Bouteflika, brother and adviser to deposed President of the Republic Abdeaziz Bouteflika, seen as one-time kingmaker, Mediene, nicknamed Toufik, the Chief of the all-powerful DRS intelligence agency from its foundation in 1990 till 2015, Tartag, his deputy, who succeeded him and following the bodies dismantle in 2016; he served as Algeria's security coordinator under the supervision of the presidency, Louisa Hanoune, Secretary General of the Workers’ Party (PT), along with the former National Defense Minister, Major General Khaled Nezzar, his son Lotfi and the “Mediator” Farid Ben Hamdine.

They were convicted of "undermining the authority of the army" and "conspiring" against the state in order to bring about regime change, in the run-up to the former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resignation in the face of mass protests that broke out on February, 22nd, calling for the departure of the symbols and figures of the old guard and the prosecution of the corrupt ones.

The brother of Algeria's deposed former president, seen as the real power behind the presidency after his brother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for conspiring against the state and undermining the military. The same jail sentence was addressed to the three co-defendants; two former secret service chiefs and the Secretary General of the Workers Party.

For their part, former Defense Minister Nezzar, his son Lofti, and a former businessman Farid Benhamdine, were all also sentenced to 20 years in absentia. They are believed to be in Spain and subject to an international arrest warrant.

According to defense lawyer Miloud Ibrahimi, the prosecutors at the military court in Blida, sought the maximum sentence of 20 years against all the defendants.

The hearings were restricted to lawyers and defendants' families only, with media also kept out of the courtroom. Outside, security was tight with police blocking access by vehicles and pedestrians to the court's two entrances.

During the closed-door trial, lawyers for Workers' Party Secretary General Louisa Hanoune admitted that Hanoune held, on March 27th, a meeting with the former president's brother and General Mohamed Mediene, a day after Gaid Salah publicly called for the resignation of President Bouteflika.

The lawyer of Mediene, reputed for two decades to be the ultimate authority behind the cloak of the Algerian government, a man whose image was never seen, pleaded for the session to be adjourned because of his client's poor health.

"He's not in a state to explain himself, listen to questions, defend himself or be judged," Miloud Brahimi was quoted as saying by the Soir d'Algerie newspaper. However, the judge consulted a doctor and turned down the request.

For his part, Said Bouteflika refused to answer the judge's questions and walked out, according to one of the lawyers present. Tartag, also, refused to leave his cell.

The four defendants had been arrested shortly, on April and May, after Bouteflika stepped down from office on April 2nd following weeks of mass protests calling for his resignation after he announced his intention to seek a fifth term. 

The charges centered on March meetings between the three and the Secretary General of the leftist Workers Party, Louisa Hanoune, following the mounting pressure on President Bouteflika. Some feared they were plotting, as a last-ditch attempt to preserve the rule of the former president, to prepare for a transition period and fire army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who sided with the protesters.

This latter “the chief of staff of the ANP,” Ahmed Gaïd Salah, denounced in his speech of April 16, 2019 these “secret meetings”, speaking of "parties that plot against popular demands and the army." If we refer to the indiscretions of some lawyers, there would have been three meetings at the villa Dar El Afia belonging to the Directorate of Internal Security (DSI).

The facts of this case go back to the end of March when Said intensified calls and meetings with high-ranked officials, including Intelligence Chiefs, along with politicians seeking their advice on the transitional period amid protesters demanding Bouteflika to step down after announcing his candidacy for a fifth term.

According to the Algerian French language news website “ElWatan” two meetings took place on March 27th. The first grouped General Toufik with Saïd Bouteflika in the morning, followed by another in the afternoon, attended by Louisa Hanoune, General Toufik and Saïd Bouteflika. It was the day after the Deputy Minister of National Defense, Chief of Staff of the National People’s Army, Army Corps General Ahmed Gaïd Salah's declaration where he asked for the application of Article 102 which provides for the resignation of the President or the impediment for illness.

As head of a political party worried about the country, noted one of the lawyers, Louisa Hanoune wanted to inquire about the situation with the brother and adviser of the President, then still in office. General Toufik joined them and asked that the meeting be held at the villa Dar El Afia, which is not far from his home instead of going to the residence of the Presidency. 

The discussions were related to possible roadmaps "for an exit" of President Bouteflika "after a period of transition." Some names of politicians who could lead this period were mentioned and the possible departure of Gaid Salah mentioned by Said Bouteflika. The meeting lasted only one hour.

On March 28, Saïd Bouteflika received in the same villa General Toufik to which he asked to convince former President of the Republic  Liamine Zeroual (1994-99) to agree to lead the transition. The next day, the two men meet at his home at the Moretti State Residence on the morning of March 30. The meeting is very short. Liamine Zeroual refuses the offer of General Toufik and returns to Batna province, his homeland.

On April 3, Former President Liamine Zeroual broke the wall of silence, confirming his meeting with General Toufik, at the request of the latter, who proposed to him to preside over the transition, in agreement with Said Bouteflika, but he refused.

On 16 April, Gaïd Salah accused Toufik of having participated in secret meetings "to conspire against the demands of the people and to hinder the solutions of the ANP and the proposals for ending the crisis". He threatens him with "resorting to firm legal measures in case he persists in his actions". A few days later, a judicial inquiry was opened at the Blida military court.

“There is no doubt that the heads of discord, which have been exposed, as well as their criminal and pernicious acts harmful to Algeria, are now suffering the fair and equitable punishment they deserve by the force of the law”, the Amy Chief added, revealing that there will be more arrests.

“The investigation will reveal new people involved in the plot against the Army and Algeria.” “Those whom the ongoing persevering and thorough investigations will undoubtedly reveal in the future will also be punished in a fair and equitable manner by the force of law,” he argued.

This verdict is the first judgment handed down to senior figures remanded in custody following the outbreak of the popular protests and the launch of anti-graft investigations targeting the symbols of the old guard. Two former prime ministers, more than 11 ex-ministers, governors, executives, and several prominent businessmen, oligarchs close to Bouteflika are waiting for their trials.

Algeria launched large-scale investigations with respect to other heavy cases, to wit, inter alia, the Khalifa and Sonatrach corruption cases, Al-Butcher, the main defendant following the seizure of more than 701 kg of cocaine in Algeria’s western port of Oran, a scandalous file which revealed in the involvement of state officials, judges and governors in what is being described as the biggest cocaine seizure in Algeria, as well as the trials of the “entourage” of the Bouteflika regime.

Caption: Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika smiles as he arrives with his brother Said at his campaign's communications department during a surprise visit in Algiers, Algeria April 10, 2009. 

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