Algeria’s former culture minister detained over graft allegations

Supreme court places Khalida Toumi in custody for squandering public funds, awarding illegal privileges.

ALGIERS - Algeria's supreme court on Monday placed in custody a former culture minister over corruption allegations under former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, state television reported.

Khalida Toumi became the 12th ex-minister to be detained since Bouteflika resigned in April under pressure from protesters demanding the removal of the ruling elite and the prosecution of people suspected of involvement in corruption.

Toumi, who served as culture minister for 12 years, is accused of squandering public funds and awarding illegal privileges during the "Tlemcen, capital of Islamic culture" event organised in 2011, state TV said.

The Algerian media reported that Toumi has been called by the justice since the beginning of last summer, as part of the investigation into the overcharging of the giant marquee and its disappearance after the opening of the cultural event.

But Toumi denied last June that she had anything to do with the marquee’s acquisition.

"Neither the Ministry of Culture nor any establishment under guardianship of the ministry nor myself had bought the marquee which served for the opening of the event" Tlemcen, Capital of Islamic Culture 2011,'' she said.

“We have absolutely nothing to do with the acquisition of this marquee," she added.

Her lawyer was not available for comment.

Two former prime ministers have also been in detention over alleged corruption since the protests erupted on February 22.

Protesters now demand the cancellation of a December12 presidential election, believing it will not be fair as some of Bouteflika's allies including interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedui are still in power.

The army is now the main player in Algeria's politics and its chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah has repeatedly vowed fairness and transparency for the vote.

The election authority on Saturday said five candidates, including two former prime ministers, would run in the election.