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Algeria: President cleans up his cabinet

Algeria's President faces an ongoing power struggle with the country's intelligence service [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 15 May, 2015

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Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika replaces key ministers as graft scandals implicate figures close to his inner circle.
Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika replaced the country's interior, finance and energy ministers on Thursday, in an apparent bid to shift attention away from corruption scandals that have sparked widespread public anger.

The north African country, which has so far avoided Arab Spring-style mass protests, has been rocked in recent months by high profile corruption cases indicting figures close to the president.

On Thursday, the official news agency APS announced the removal of seven ministers, most of whom have come under scrutiny over corruption cases.

One prominent case involves accusations of vast corruption over a project to build an East-West highway. Sixteen people and seven foreign companies are accused of money laundering and misappropriation of up to $5 billion in public funds.

Investigations into the highway project have revealed an international network of corruption that implicates Algerian officials in the energy sector and Sonatrach, the state oil company, which received bribes from foreign companies working in Algeria in exchange for oil deals.

The bribes were managed through bank accounts in Singapore, the UAE, Switzerland, France, Italy, Hong Kong and the USA. The authorities are attempting to get the money repatriated to Algeria.

That case is seen as part of a wider, intense conflict between President Bouteflika's supporters and the powerful intelligence agency, the Departement du Renseignement et de la Securite (DRS).

Thursday's reshuffle saw Ammar Ghoul, formerly Minister for Transport and close to the President's powerful brother, was transferred to the Department for the Environment.

Culture Minister Nadia Labidi was among the most controversial figures to be replaced. The head of the Algerian Workers' Party, Louisa Hanoune, had accused Labidi of awarding state contracts to a company run by her husband, a charge she denies.

The appointment of a new finance minister could signal economic changes. Algeria's state budgets have been hard hit by low oil prices, threatening the state's ability to pay subsidies and fund a massive public sector, which has been a key factor keeping the country stable despite the fall of dictators in neighbouring Libya and Tunisia.

The new Finance Minister, Abderrahmane Benkhelfa, is a banking analyst long critical of the overvalued currency and the parallel exchange market.

Former Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi, unable to quell the angry backlash over plans to exploit shale gas, was replaced by Salah Khebri, an energy sector technocrat. Minister of Interior Tayeb Belaiz, known to be ill, was replaced by the little-known Nouredine Bedoui.

With additional reporting from The Associated Press

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