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Algeria vows tough action in Italian bribery scandal

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Algeria vowed Wednesday to take tough action against any officials at state energy firm Sonatrach found to have accepted bribes from Italian company Eni.

Eni's chief executive Paolo Scaroni is already under investigation in Italy over alleged bribes paid to win contracts in Algeria for Saipem SpA, a subsidiary of Eni.

That inquiry is into suspected bribes given to Sonatrach, where several top executives including the president were forced to resign two years ago due to the scandal.

On Wednesday, Algerian Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi vowed to be "inflexible" against those found guilty of corruption within Sonatrach, one of the world's largest energy companies.

"We fight corruption with more determination. Firm instructions have been given to prosecute anyone who acted against Sonatrach's interests. We will be inflexible in this matter," Yousfi told a conference when asked about the probe against Scaroni.

"The judiciary is currently investigating... we will take necessary measures when it finishes its work," he said.

Italian media reports allege that Scaroni met in Paris with an intermediary from a company based in Hong Kong who handled bribes paid to Algerian officials in order to win contracts for Saipem.

They said that corrupt payments amounted to 200 million euros ($268 million) and that a total of eight people were under investigation.

The probe by prosecutors in Milan is an offshoot of a broader inquiry in Algeria over contracts worth hundreds of millions of euros.

The biggest contract in the inquiry was to build the GK3 gas pipeline and was worth $580 million (443 million euros). Saipem won the contract in northeast Algeria in 2009, the reports said.

Saipem has defended itself saying its business activities were compliant with the law.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130220/algeria-vows-tough-action-italian-bribery-scandal