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Former Algerian PM questioned in widening probe into longtime elite

Former Algerian prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia was questioned on Tuesday in a widening investigation into alleged corruption in the inner circle of ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, state television reported.

Private television channels broadcast footage of the unpopular Ouyahia arriving in mid-morning at the courthouse in the centre of the capital Algiers.

He is the latest prominent figure to be caught up in the widening fraud probe launched by prosecutors since the ailing Bouteflika was forced to step down in early April following weeks of mass protests.

Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, a former central bank governor, was questioned at the same Algiers court on Monday over suspicions of the “squandering” of public funds.

Ouyahia and Loukal were both summoned on April 20 for questioning by prosecutors.

Ouyahia served four times as prime minister from 1995, three of them during Bouteflika’s two-decade rule.

He was finally abandoned by his longtime master on March 11 in a last-ditch bid to hang on to power.

Loukal was appointed finance minister at the end of March after Bouteflika named interior minister Noureddine Bedoui to replace Ouyahia as prime minister.

Former police chief Abdelghani Hamel was also questioned separately on Monday as part of a judicial inquiry into alleged bribery, state media said.

Hamel — once tipped as Bouteflika’s successor before he was fired by the veteran leader in June last year — appeared in a court in Tipaza, west of Algiers, before being released, the official APS news agency said.

Since Bouteflika’s ouster, investigators have cracked down on alleged graft, zeroing in on the activities of prominent politicians and businessmen following two decades of cronyism under the veteran president.

High-profile figures targeted in the past week include the North African country’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, who was reportedly detained on allegations of false customs declarations.

The head of the vast state oil firm Sonatrach, Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour, has been fired and replaced on the orders of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah.

Four brothers from the influential Kouninef family, close to Bouteflika’s brother Said, have been arrested over alleged non-compliance with state contracts, according to official media.

After pushing Bouteflika to quit with mass demonstrations launched on February 22, protesters have kept up their rallies, calling for a complete overhaul of Algeria’s political system, improved living standards and the eradication of corruption.

Algeria ranks 105 out of 180 on Transparency International’s 2018 corruption perceptions index.

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