There has been speculation for some time as to what might happen to Sonatrach’s CEO, Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour, if Abdelaziz Bouteflika was replaced as president. Since Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaïd Salah’s references to Sonatrach corruption in his Oran speech on 10 April, Ould Kaddour’s position has become more precarious.
Gaïd Salah’s likely aim is to replace Ould Kaddour with an ally. He will do so using the pretext of digging back into the Sonatrach corruption case. His target will not be former energy minister Chakib Khelil, who is no longer an influential figure in Algiers, but Ould Kaddour.
Ould Kaddour had nothing to do with the Sonatrach scandal as far as we understand. When it broke in the media in 2010 he was coming to the end of a 30 month jail sentence. This was for his part in the scandal involving Brown & Root Condor (BRC) which was the joint venture between Sonatrach and Halliburton’s then Kellogg Brown & Root subsidiary. BRC was a massive scam operation and involved skimming off millions of dollars of state funds by overbilling for state contracts for the Algerian defence forces. The key figure behind the scam on the Algerian side was Chakib Khelil. Ould Kaddour had been appointed as BRC’s overall manager by Khelil. When the scam was exposed, Ould Kaddour served as Khelil’s ‘fall guy’ and faced a trumped up espionage charge that Ould Kaddour said was organised by the former intelligence services, the Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité (DRS).
If Gaïd Salah now has the Sonatrach case reopened and diverts it back to the BRC case, then he may have a golden opportunity to smear and sack Ould Kaddour. This will naturally seriously damage foreign investor confidence in Sonatrach, but with the extent of the damage very much depending on which of Gaïd Salah’s henchmen takes over the corporation. If this move is merely to add to Gaïd Salah’s own corruption then the damage to Sonatrach could be serious.