An Algerian court has convicted two former Algerian prime ministers and other senior officials in a corruption case.
Ahmed Ouyahia was sentenced to 15 years and Abdelmalek Sellal to 12 years in prison on charges of squandering public funds and abusing authority in a case related to car assembly plants.
Both premiers served under longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced to step down in April in the wake of nationwide protests and pressure from the country’s powerful military.
The Sidi M’hamed Court in the capital Algiers also sentenced former industry minister Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is on the run, to 20 years in prison in absentia.
Two former industry ministers, Youcef Yousfi and Mahdjoub Bedda, were handed 10 years in prison each in the same case.
A former governor of Boumerdes Province was sentenced to five years in prison, while eight businessmen were handed jail terms ranging between two to seven years.
Former transport and public works minister Abdelghani Zaalane was acquitted.
The verdicts can be appealed.
Bouteflika, now aged 82, ruled energy-rich Algeria for two decades, an era that was dominated by cronyism and mismanagement.
The verdicts come ahead of a presidential election on Thursday, which demonstrators say will not be fair because some of Bouteflika’s allies are still in power. The army has said the vote will be fair and is the only way out of the crisis.
Abboud noted the verdicts and sentences were announced just before the vote.
“It’s about how the same system that created these judges who are pronouncing these sentences is the same system that created how these ministers were holding power allegedly and misusing public funds allegedly,” he said.
The court in Algiers also handed 10-year prison terms to two former industry ministers, and sentences ranging from three to seven years to five prominent businessmen.
Many former senior officials have been in detention as the army seeks to quell mass protests over corruption and demands to remove those guilty in the ruling elite.
In all, 19 defendants – two former prime ministers, other prominent former politicians and car industry tycoons – face charges ranging from money laundering to abuse of office and granting undue privileges.
The proceedings have been dominated by accusations of illegal funding during Bouteflika’s last election campaign this year.
The prosecutor on Sunday said the campaign had caused a loss to the public treasury estimated at $920m.
Ouyahia and Sellal, and the other main defendants, denied the accusations against them.
Sellal broke down on Sunday, swearing he had “not betrayed the country.”
Among the businessmen jailed was Ali Haddad, a former chief of Algeria’s largest business association, who was imprisoned for seven years.
Former transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane was the only defendant acquitted.
The court also issued a 20-year prison sentence in absentia to former industry minister Abdesslam Bouchouareb, who is abroad. An international arrest warrant has been issued by the same court.