The Algerian judiciary has postponed the unprecedented trial involving two prime ministers, several former ministers and businessmen of the regime of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who are currently in custody, on corruption charges, until next Wednesday
According to the Anadolu Agency’s correspondent, the Sidi M’hamed court in downtown Algiers decided on Monday to postpone the trial until 4 December, following the withdrawal of the defendants’ attorneys due to the lack of conditions to launch the defence.
Dozens of citizens attended the Sidi M’hamed court in the centre of the capital to witness the trial amid tight security reinforcements at all entrances to the roads leading to the courthouse.
Large screens were installed inside and outside the courtroom to enable the crowd to see the trial.
Before the start of the trial, the defence lawyers filed a request to the court asking the judge to postpone the lawsuit, arguing that ” the appropriate conditions to hold a trail are lacking,” due to the absence of a large hall to accommodate the number of citizens and media professionals, who protested against several inconveniences.
Defence lawyer Najib Bitam told reporters before the start of the trial that the defence would ask for postponing the trial due to lack of suitable conditions. Thus, lawyers such as Abdelmajid Selini told local media that holding a case of this magnitude in a short period has complicated the defence’s task.
However, Justice Minister Belkacem Zghmati said on Sunday that all conditions to hold a convenient trial are available and that the law provides for ministers to be tried in a special court. However, this particular court was not established during the previous era for unknown reasons, noting that the defendants will be tried in a public court.
Several business people, who owned car assembly plants of several international brands, were involved in the case and held under custody for months.
Former Prime ministers Abdelmalek Sellal and Ahmed Ouyahia are also held on charges of corruption, along with former industry ministers, Youcef Yousfi, Mahdjoub Bedda, Abdeslam Bouchouareb ( currently abroad), former Transport Minister Abdelghani Zaalane, and former Tourism Minister Yamina Zerhouni.
The officials mentioned above were detained on charges of “abusing the prerogatives of a government position”, “illicit wealth”, “wasting public funds”, “granting undue privileges” and “bribery and money laundering”.
Officials say the car assembly plants were a way of smuggling foreign currency abroad.
After the ousting of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April by a popular uprising backed by the army, dozens of people in business and senior officials of the old regime, including former prime ministers Ouyahia and Selal, were arrested.
The arrest warrants were issued against the suspects following the launch of an investigation by the Algerian judiciary into corruption files which took place during the last reign of Bouteflika, including the file of the car assembly plants.
This is the second trial involving figures of the former regime. The military court in Blida, south of Algiers, sentenced Said Bouteflika (Bouteflika’s brother), former intelligence chiefs Mohamed Median, nicknamed Tawfik, and Othman Tartak, alongside with Louisa Hanoune, secretary-general of the Labour Party (left) to 15 years in prison at the end of September on charges of “conspiring against the army and the state.”