Algiers: An Algerian military court on Wednesday sentenced the brother of deposed president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and three co-defendants to 15 years in prison in a swift verdict delivered out of sight of the media.
Said Bouteflika, widely seen as the real power behind the presidency after his brother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013, went on trial on Monday alongside two former intelligence chiefs and a political party head.
Their convictions are the most high-profile in a string of prosecutions of prominent politicians and businessmen over alleged graft launched since Bouteflika was pushed out in April after two decades in power.
All four defendants were convicted of “undermining the authority of the army” and “conspiring” against the state, in the run-up to the ageing president’s resignation in the face of mass protests earlier this year.
Prosecutors at the military court in Blida, south of Algiers, had asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years against all the defendants, defence lawyer Miloud Ibrahimi said.
Former defence minister Khaled Nezzar has said that as protests mounted against the veteran leader, Said Bouteflika proposed declaring a state of emergency and firing army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah.
Lawyers for Workers’ Party chief Louisa Hanoune have admitted she met the president’s brother and General Mohamed Mediene on March 27, a day after Gaid Salah publicly called for the ailing president to step down.
Hanoune, Mediene — who headed the all-powerful secret service for 25 years — and fellow ex-spy chief General Athmane Tartag were all given 15 years alongside Said Bouteflika, state news agency APS reported.
Defence counsel expressed indignation at the trial’s speed and lack of transparency.
“I have absolutely nothing to say about this trial except that we will appeal,” defence lawyer Miloud Brahimi told AFP.
One of Mediene’s lawyers, Farouk Ksentini, said he was “surprised by the severity of the verdict.”
One of the lawyers for Hanoune’s Workers Party, Ramdan Tazibt, said the trial was “political” and an “attack on democracy”.
He said counsel for Hanoune had “showed there was no reason for her to be detained let alone convicted.”
- Fugitive in Spain –
Nezzar, his son Lofti, and a former businessman Farid Benhamdine, were all sentenced to 20 years in absentia, APS said.
The retired general has for weeks been on the run in Spain, where he has been joined by his son, according to Algerian media reports.
Nezzar was at the head of the army in 1992 when it cancelled the electoral process, denying Islamist groups a victory at the polls and pitching the country into a devastating, decade-long civil war.
A Swiss court in mid-2018 cleared the way for Nezzar to face war crimes charges after he was arrested in Switzerland.
In a complaint filed by rights group TRIAL International, a group of alleged victims accused him of torture and arbitrary arrests.
Said Bouteflika’s detention in May was part of a wave of arrests targeting the ousted president’s inner circle.
But many fear they are little more than a high-level purge and a power struggle between still-powerful regime insiders, rather than a genuine effort to reform the state.
The hearings were restricted to lawyers and defendants’ families, with media kept out of the courtroom.
Mediene, whose health has been deteriorating according to his family, arrived in court in a wheelchair and asked for an adjournment, according to defence lawyers. The judge consulted a doctor and turned down the request.
Known as Toufik, Mediene headed the all-powerful DRS intelligence agency from its foundation in 1990 up to his fall from grace in 2015.
Tartag, his deputy, succeeded Mediene and when the DRS was dismantled in 2016 he served as Algeria’s security coordinator under the supervision of the presidency.
Presidential elections have now been set for December 12.
But protesters have kept up demands for political reforms and the removal of the former president’s loyalists, including army chief Gaid Salah, who has emerged as Algeria’s strongman since Bouteflika’s fall.