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Serial dismissals in Algeria: CEO of Sonatrach sacked

The boss of the Algerian oil giant Sonatrach was sacked on Tuesday, an announcement following that of the provisional detention of the country’s first fortune, Issad Rebrab, victim of the judicial offensive launched against powerful bosses since the fall of the president Bouteflika.

Algerian national television announced in the evening the dismissal of Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour, CEO of the oil and gas group. No explanation has been given for this decision by Acting Head of State Abdelkader Bensalah.

A new CEO, Rachid Hachichi, has been appointed to replace Ould Kaddour, head of Sonatrach since 2017, a crucial group for the Algerian economy.

Hydrocarbons bring Algeria more than 95% of its external revenue and contribute 60% of the state budget. Algeria produces 1.2 million barrels a day.

The public hydrocarbon giant has been shaken in recent years by a series of financial scandals that have been investigated in Algeria and abroad.

The businessman Issad Rebrab placed in custody is the founder of Cevital, a conglomerate claiming to employ 18,000 employees on three continents, in the food, construction, steel, distribution, electronics and home appliances. Forbes magazine estimates its fortune at $ 3.8 billion, the first in Algeria and the sixth in Africa.

The prosecution issued late Monday a warrant of arrest against Mr. Rebrab, 74, who had been referred earlier in the day after being heard by the gendarmerie, said the official Algeria Press Service (APS).

He is “suspected of misrepresentation of capital movements from and to abroad, overcharging of imported equipment and importation of used equipment despite the granting of bank, tax and customs benefits” to new equipment, according to APS.

Since the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on April 2, under pressure from a major popular protest movement, the judiciary has opened investigations against several businessmen linked to the former presidential clan.

Mr. Rebrab founded Cevital in 1998, a year before Abdelaziz Bouteflika came to power, on the basis of a steel company, Metal Sider, created ten years earlier, when Algeria’s economy was still deeply state.

Although his activities flourished under Bouteflika’s presidency (1999-2019), he maintained a tense relationship with the presidential clan. He had been in open conflict since 2015 with the authorities, accusing them of blocking his investments in Algeria.

The Minister of Industry at the time Abdeslam Bouchouareb accused him of importing and overcharging used equipment.

In 2016, the journalistic investigation of the “Panama Papers” had affirmed that Mr. Rebrab had an offshore account since the beginning of the 90’s, which was strictly forbidden by the Algerian law. The person concerned had denied.

On Monday, the CEO of Cevital had, in a tweet, denied having been arrested, assuring to have presented himself to the gendarmerie as part of an investigation into the blocking, for nearly a year in the port of Algiers by the authorities customs, industrial equipment of his company.

Cevital did not react immediately to the incarceration of his boss.

In particular, Cevital acquired the Brandt household appliance group (Brandt, De Dietrich, Sauter and Vedette brands) and the Oxxo door and window manufacturer. There is also a project to create a water treatment plant in the Ardennes (north-east).

In Italy, he bought the steelworks of Piombino (formerly Lucchini) in 2015 before being forced by the Italian government, which accused him of not honoring his commitments, to sell them in 2018 to the Indian JSW Steel.

Since February 22, Algeria has been the scene of an unprecedented protest that forced Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down. But the protesters still demand the end of a “system” accused of corruption.
Tuesday, a new student demonstration took place in Algiers to ask for “a new Algeria”.

Four brothers of the discreet but influential family Kouninef, owner of the large group KouGC, specializing in particular in civil engineering, hydraulics and construction, were also arrested Sunday and referred to the prosecution Tuesday, according to state media.

The family is deemed close to Said Bouteflika, brother and powerful advisor to the former president.
According to the APS, the Kouninef brothers are suspected of “non-respect of contractual commitments in the execution of public projects, trading influence with public officials for the obtaining of privileges and diversion of land and concessions”.

At the beginning of April, the former boss of the Algerian bosses, Ali Haddad, owner of the first Algerian construction group and close to Mr. Bouteflika, was imprisoned after his night arrest at a police station in border with Tunisia in possession of undeclared currency.

On 16 April, the army chief of staff, General Gaid Salah, de facto the strongman of Algeria since he helped push Bouteflika to resignation, called for justice to accelerate “the pace of treatment” in his investigations of personalities “who have benefited unduly” public money.

On Tuesday, he welcomed the “justice’s response to this appeal … that will reassure the people that his looted money will be recovered by force of law and with the necessary rigor” .

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