Over the past two to three months, state-owned Sonatrach has been hit by one corruption allegation after another. The fire at the El Merk oil field in October raised questions about nepotism in regard to the appointment of Yamina Hakkar, wife of Sonatrach CEO Toufik Hakkar, to head the health, safety and environment (HSE) department and what responsibility she may have had for this and other technical problems and accidents (Algeria Focus November 2020).
Then, in December, allegations arose over the roles of senior Sonatrach officials — including Toufik Hakkar, production director Taleb Messaoud, his adviser Messikar Réda, and possibly others — in favouring Russia’s largest manufacturer of steel pipes for the oil and gas industry, TMK, over other foreign suppliers (Algeria Focus December 2020).
More allegations of corruption and mismanagement blew up this month, with further allegations of Yamina Hakkar’s meddling in senior management appointments and dismissals. The case that has aroused attention and anger is the appointment of Mustapha Benamara, who is married to Yamina Hakkar’s cousin, to head Sonatrach’s central research and development department. Dr Mohamed Khodja — a member of the Académie Algérienne des Sciences et Technologies (AAST), author of several publications in international specialist journals and renowned and appreciated for his work at Sonatrach — was reportedly dismissed to make way for Benamara, whose appointment was reportedly confirmed after vigorous lobbying by Yamina Hakkar.
According to Sonatrach sources, she is also alleged to have been behind the appointment of Mourad Beldjehem as the director of the associations’ division, as well as that of Azzeddine Djouabri as Sonatrach’s executive director of human resources. One insider described Sonatrach as becoming a private family company.
As we go to press, we are hearing more allegations of potential corruption, this time concerning the troubling relationship between a senior official in Sonatrach’s exploration and production division and a manager of the Houston-based National Energy Services Reunited Corp (NESR), which recently won a major strategic contract for stimulating oil wells. We will return to this issue next month, when more details have come to light.
Meanwhile there are no indications that Energy Minister Abdelmadjid Attar has addressed any of these issues, or at least not publicly, with the result that Sonatrach is in danger of slipping back to its reputation during the era of the various ‘Sonatrach scandals’ under former energy minister Chakib Khelil.