June 24, 2015 / 7:19 AM / 4 years ago

Algeria court jails private group chief for fraud, graft

ALGIERS (Reuters) - An Algerian court on Tuesday handed an 18-year prison sentence to the former owner of a major private enterprise after a retrial for fraud, a judicial source said, in one of the North African country’s most high-profile graft cases.

Abdelmoumene Khalifa was convicted by the Blida court, south of Algiers, of criminal association, corruption, abuse of trust, forgery, swindling and fraudulent bankruptcy, the source said, speaking from the court.

It also ordered a confiscation of his property and one million dinar ($104,000) fine.

The verdict followed other graft scandals involving officials and foreign firms, a crackdown seen by analysts as an attempt to attract foreign investment as the OPEC member feels the impact of a slump in crude oil prices.

The victims were largely state enterprises, Algerian private companies and private citizens who invested money in the company’s banking arm, attracted by high interest rates. The funds were then channeled off.

Authorities estimate more than $1 billion was lost through embezzlement by several Khalifa officials.

Khalifa, known as “Golden Boy”, had been sentenced to life in prison in absentia in 2007 while living in London.

He has been in custody since British authorities extradited him in December 2013, and the supreme court accepted his appeal for a retrial.

The court also jailed other former officials at the Khalifa Group for 3 to 10 years for different offences related to the Khalifa Bank.

The Khalifa Group included a bank, an airline, two television channels and several companies operating in sectors such as car rental, construction, graphic design and catering. The group employed an estimated 20,000 people.

The government decided to liquidate the group after three of its employees were arrested trying to board a Paris-bound jet with suitcases stuffed with 2 million euros in 2003.

A court in Algiers last month jailed 14 people, including former officials and businessmen, and fined seven foreign firms from Europe, Asia and Canada in a trial over corruption in the construction of a major cross-country highway.

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