Algeria court orders former ministers taken into custody

Supreme court orders arrests of Khaled Nezzar, Abdelghani Zaalane and Mohamed El Ghazi over conspiracy and corruption allegations.

The army has become the main player in Algerian politics

Algeria postponed presidential election initially planned for July 4

ALGIERS - An Algerian court has issued an arrest warrant against a former defence minister and army chief, along with his son, for alleged "conspiracy", state television reported Tuesday.

The warrant against Khaled Nezzar follows a series of legal moves against high-profile figures in the regime of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Algeria's supreme court on Monday also ordered former public works and transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane and ex-labour minister Mohamed El Ghazi to be taken into custody over suspected corruption under Bouteflika, state television reported.

They are the latest senior officials to be detained since protesters earlier this year demanded the prosecution of people involved in corruption and the departure of the ruling elite.

Power struggle within regime

The court in Blida, southwest of Algiers, said former army chief Nezzar was suspected of "conspiracy and breach of public order", according to a news ticker on national TV.

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 recently claimed that as protests mounted against Bouteflika in April, the president's powerful brother had sought his advice on how to crush the protest movement.

The former minister told the Algeria Patriotique news website - run by his son Lotfi Nezzar - that Said Bouteflika had mulled declaring a state of emergency and firing army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah.

He repeated those accusations in May when he appeared as a witness against Said Bouteflika, who was arrested along with two former intelligence chiefs on charges including "conspiring" against the state and "undermining the authority of the army".

Gaid Salah, a longtime ally of president Bouteflika, has become Algeria's de facto strongman since the 82-year-old president left office on April 2 following weeks of protests against his bid to seek a fifth term.

Protesters have welcomed the arrests of high-profile figures from Bouteflika's regime, but many fear they are little more than a high-level purge and a power struggle between regime clans, rather than a genuine effort to reform the state.

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.

Intentional waste

On Monday, a judge at the supreme court had ordered the detention of former public works and transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane and ex-labour minister Mohamed El Ghazi over charges including "intentional waste of public property", the state channel said.

Zaalane served as minister from May 2017 to March 2019 and was Bouteflika's campaign manager for a presidential election previously planned for April this year, when Bouteflika had been seeking a fifth term of office.

El Ghazi was in charge of the labour ministry from May 2014 to May 2017.

Five former ministers have now been detained since the protests broke out in February. Ex-prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellak have also been placed in custody for charges including "dissipation of public funds".

The army has become the main player in Algerian politics since Bouteflika's ouster, and Gaid Salah has vowed to help the judiciary prosecute people suspected of corruption.

Algeria has postponed a presidential election initially planned for July 4, citing a lack of candidates. No new date has been set for the vote.

Interim president Abdelkader Bensalah late last month named a panel to begin a dialogue with the opposition with the aim of eventually holding a presidential election.

Protesters are now seeking the resignation of Bensalah, a former head of the upper house of parliament, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, whom they regard as close to Bouteflika.