Algeria’s annual 5 July army day promotions are followed on 22 July each year by ‘La fête de la police algérienne’, which celebrates the founding of the Direction Générale de la Sûreté Nationale (DGSN) on 22 July 1962. This year, however, the police promotions attracted unwanted attention because of the extraordinary and very surprising promotion of Mohamed Noui Sifi to Controller General which is the highest rank in the national police force.
Sifi’s promotion, which was arranged and conducted by the director of the DGSN, Khelifa Ounissi, raised many eyebrows, because of his record of corruption and was greeted with anger in many of the police stations in and around Algiers.
Sifi headed the DGSN’s general administration from 2011 until September 2019 when he was promoted to head the organisation’s Police aux Frontières et de l’Immigration (PAF). As head of the DGSN’s general administration Sifi served directly under General Abdelghani Hamel, until the latter’s dismissal in 2018 and subsequent imprisonment on numerous corruption charges. He also managed the police force’s huge annual budget which is estimated at more than US$50 million for equipment and more than US$2 billion for salaries and operations.
For reasons which have never been explained satisfactorily, Sifi was neither summoned nor charged at Hamel’s two court trials. He even remained in post after his former boss’s sentencing and imprisonment. The fact that he was not indicted is surprising because he oversaw the diversion of funds for the building and refurbishment of Hamel’s personal residence in Algiers. He also served the interests of the Hamel family in several illicit financial operations.
In addition to aiding and abetting Hamel’s embezzlement of police funds, Sifi assisted his cousin Naziha Azouzi in winning a number of state contracts. Azouzi’s business made special medical equipment for ambulances. Sifi enabled her to win contracts equipping the DGSN ambulances.
Flushed with this easy success, Azouzi separated from her business partner in 2015 and set up on her own. She thrived. However, her former partner, aggrieved by tis development, complained to one of his friends, Mohamed Benamara, who happened to be a police commissioner. When Benamara began an investigation into Azouzi’s business, she immediately alerted Sifi, who used his influence to have Benamara suspended and prosecuted for abuse of office and of power.
Sifi’s seemingly glittering career and meteoric rise within the highest levels of the political-military elite was no doubt helped by the fact that his brother, Mokdad Sifi, had served as prime minister during the troublesome 1990s.
Not so fortunate, however, was Khelifa Ounissi, whose career in the police had paralleled that of Abdelghani Hamel. Indeed, the two men’s families were on such friendly terms that their sons went into business together. However, after a family dispute between the sons, Hamel insisted that Ounissi not only retire from the police, but move to Djelfa, on the edge of the Sahara.
However, in 2019, following Hamel’s demise, Ounissi, after seven years in Djelfa, was brought out of retirement by interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and appointed as director-general of the DGSN.
During Ounissi’s seven years in the wilderness, it had been his old friend and colleague, Mohamed Noui Sifi, who had watched his back and provided him with unwavering support and favours. As a gesture of gratitude, Ounissi, now head of the DGSN, promoted Sifi to its highest rank.
The story of Ounissi and Sifi would almost certainly not have been known to many Algerians and even fewer in the outside world if it had not been headlined by Algérie Part, which asked how the country’s top authorities, notably President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, could commend such an unjustified promotion and allow Sifi to enjoy such impunity.
Algérie Part’s answer was not what the Tebboune regime likes to hear. It wrote: ‘Neither the Hirak, nor the country’s high authorities, have been able to overcome the patronage, nepotism and cronyism that has brought the country to ruin. These evils, specific to the Algerian regime, are what allow people like Mohamed Noui Sifi to be promoted, despite everything, [to the position of] Controller General of the Algerian National Police! Poor Algeria …’