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Algeria prosecutor seeks heavy sentences against ex-premiers

The trial, involving 19 defendants, is the first resulting from sweeping investigations into graft allegations in Algeria after the resignation of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the face of massive street protests (AFP Photo/RYAD KRAMDI )

Algiers (AFP) - The Algerian prosecutor's office Sunday requested 20-year prison sentences for several former politicians accused of corruption, including two prime ministers who served under ex-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, local media reported.

The trial is the first resulting from sweeping investigations into graft allegations launched after Bouteflika stepped down in April in the face of mass protests which erupted in February against his bid for a fifth term.

In all, 19 defendants -- two former premiers, other prominent ex-politicians and automotive industry tycoons -- face charges ranging from money laundering to abuse of office and granting undue privileges.

The state prosecutor is seeking a 20-year prison sentence for ex-premiers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, local media reported.

A similar sentence is requested for former industry minister Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is being tried in absentia as he has fled abroad.

It is the first time since Algeria's independence from France in 1962 that former prime ministers have been put on trial.

The proceedings have been dominated by accusations of illegal funding during Bouteflika's last election campaign this spring.

The prosecutor Sunday said the campaign had caused a loss to the public treasury estimated at 110 billion dinars ($920 million).

Ouyahia and Sellal and the other main defendants have denied the accusations against them.

Sellal broke down Sunday, swearing he had "not betrayed the country".

The former president's jailed brother Said Bouteflika appeared in court Saturday as a witness but refused to answer questions.

Speaking for the last time before the verdict, the main defendants Sunday maintained their innocence.

"I swear I am innocent, I was in charge of the (electoral) campaign for only a week," former public works and transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane said Sunday.

"I was a minister for only two-and-a-half months," said Mahdjoub Bedda, former industry minister.

The trial opened on Wednesday and the verdict will be delivered on Tuesday, two days before a contentious presidential election which protestors dismiss as an illegitimate attempt by the establishment to consolidate its power.

Former industry ministers Bedda and Youcef Yousfi each face 15 years in jail, while the prosecution is seeking eight-year prison sentences for other defendants, according to the Algerian media reports.

Also on trial was Ali Haddad, former head of the main Algerian employer organisation, the Forum of Business Leaders (FCE), and Mohamed Bairi, CEO of the Ival group which owns industrial vehicle plant Iveco.

The defendants also include automotive industry tycoons Ahmed Mazouz and Hassane Arbaoui.

Defence lawyers have boycotted the trial, alleging the proceedings are "politicised" and surrounded by a climate of "settling scores".

The state prosecutor has also demanded that the property of the defendants be seized, and called for an international arrest warrant to be issued against Bouchouareb.