Algerian president fires managers of several state-controlled firms amid corruption scandal

By Aomar Ouali, AP
Monday, May 31, 2010

Algerian president fires CEO of state oil firm

ALGIERS, Algeria — Amid a growing corruption scandal, Algeria’s president has fired the CEO and all top managers at the state-owned oil firm that dominates the North African country’s economy, local media reported Monday.

CEO Mohammed Mezian and the four vice presidents of oil company Sonatrach were officially removed by presidential decree Sunday, the official APS news agency and other media reported, quoting the official government register.

They had already been jailed or placed under house arrest because of an investigation into the suspected embezzlement of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sonatrach extracts oil and natural gas and is by far the largest Algerian company, providing about 90 percent of the country’s entire exports. One of its fired managers also ran Tassili Airlines, the country’s second-biggest, where a separate corruption investigation has been opened.

The presidential announcement came after Chakib Khelil, a former OPEC chief, was fired from Algeria’s Energy Ministry on Friday amid the graft allegations.

Khelil, who is a close ally of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is not under investigation, but the French-language daily Liberte questioned in an editorial Monday whether his eviction from government could pave the way for charges against him.

A longtime government figure with close ties to the U.S. oil industry, Khelil was strongly identified as one of the president’s men.

Khelil was replaced by Youcef Youcefi as minister for energy and oil. Nordine Cherouati was named Sonatrach’s new CEO. Both new figures are considered close to the military, which has been at the center of Algeria’s behind-the-scenes power play since the country’s independence in 1962.

Observers viewed their nomination as confirming the lead role taken by the military-affiliated secret service, known as the DRS, in pushing for an anti-corruption probe.

While oil-related firms have been at the center of the corruption investigation that has been going on for months, national construction, highways, tramways, telecommunications, port businesses and other state-controlled activities are also under scrutiny. Several government or town hall officials have been charged over the past few months.

The head of police, Ali Tounsi, was murdered in his office by a colonel in February. Algerian media said he was targeted in revenge for a corruption probe into army contracts.

Associated Press Writer Alfred de Montesquiou contributed to this report.

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