There are two outstanding questions amidst the many recent fraud trials of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s inner circle including: favoured oligarchs such as Ali Haddad, Mahieddine Tahkout and the Kouninef brothers; former ministers such as Abdeslam Bouchouareb, the former Minister of Industry and Mines; and prime ministers, notably Abdelmalek Sellal and Ahmed Ouyahia; and, of course, his younger brother Saïd Bouteflika. This is why they have been given so much media coverage and have shown that Algeria was, and perhaps still is, nothing more than a ‘mafia state’.
One reason is because President Abdelmajid Tebboune, like Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaïd Salah before him, wants popular support by revealing how corrupt the Bouteflika presidency was and how these publicly loathed figures are, thanks to Tebboune’s presidency, now being punished with lengthy prison sentences. Tebboune also wants to convey an image, especially to the IMF which might soon be called upon to bail him out, now that the country is finally being cleaned up.
However, there is a second and more important question, which, because of the censorship and control of the media, is not being publicly raised. The total of all the court findings of these many fraudulent state contracts and illegal transfers abroad still fall a very long way short of the estimated US$300 billion of hydrocarbons revenues that remain unaccounted for during the Bouteflika era. Most of the frauds revealed in court are in the millions rather than billions of US dollars. For example, court records reveal that, over the past 15 years, the Haddad brothers’ Entreprise des travaux routiers, hydrauliques et bâtiments (ETRHB) group won 214 public contracts totalling over US$6 billion. Figures for the other oligarchs fall into similar-looking sets of statistics. The courts will have to do a great deal more investigating If they are to get anywhere near the estimated US$300 billion.
Unsurprisingly the answer to this puzzle lies with the army and its hundreds of untouchable generals. The current highly publicised fraud trials have kept the spotlight off the army and its generals. Algeria’s presidents are installed in office by the army high command with Tebboune being ‘elected’ thanks to the late Gaïd Salah. If they tried to initiate any such investigations of the army, they would be out of office very quickly. Former President Liamine Zeroual (1994-1999) was effectively driven from office by DRS boss General Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène after he raised suspicions about DRS activities. Before that, Ahmed Boudiaf (1992) was assassinated at the instigation of the DRS after he made the mistake of saying that he was going to clean up the fraudulent regime. It is not without good reason that the Hirak are currently referring to the generals as traitors.