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Algeria jails two former prime ministers ahead of election

An Algerian court has sentenced two former prime ministers to long jail terms amid a huge corruption investigation.

Tahmed Ouyahia (L) and Abdelmalek Sellal (R) were both allies of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
Tahmed Ouyahia (L) and Abdelmalek Sellal (R) were both allies of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Ahmed Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Abdelmalek Sellal to 12 years.

They were accused of abusing authority in a car manufacturing embezzlement scandal.

It was the first time since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962 that ex-prime ministers were put on trial.

The two were allies of long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned amid mass protests in April.

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Protesters have continued to call for sweeping reforms, accusing leaders of the governing party of widespread corruption and repression ahead of presidential elections.

Ouyahia and Sellal were among 19 defendants tried on charges of money laundering, abuse of office, and granting undue privileges in the vehicle assembly industry.

One serving cabinet minister, Abdesalem Bouchoureb was sentenced to 20 years in prison in absentia. An international arrest warrant has been issued for him amid reports that he is abroad.

Defence lawyers boycotted the trial, alleging the proceedings were “politicised” and aimed at “settling scores”, AFP news agency reports.

The convicted men, however, have 10 days to appeal against the sentence, BBC North Africa analyst Ahmed Rouaba says.

The scandal hit automotive sector was launched in 2014 through partnerships between foreign groups and large Algerian corporations, often owned by businessmen linked to people close to Mr Bouteflika, news agency AFP reports.

The verdict comes two days before a presidential election, the first since Mr Boueflika was forced out of office.

Pro-democracy activists see the poll as a ploy by Mr Bouteflika’s allies to hold on to power, and have been waging mass protests to demand its cancellation. BBC News