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Arrest warrant issued for Algeria ex-energy minister

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

International arrest warrants have been issued for former energy minister Chekib Khelil and eight others in connection with a corruption case at energy firm Sonatrach, Algeria's prosecutor general said Monday.

Khelil's wife, their two children, his right-hand man Farid Bedjaoui and the former head of his office Redha Hamche also face arrest, Belkacem Zeghmati told a news conference in Algiers.

He said the warrants were issued two weeks ago.

The suspects are wanted in connection with the award of contracts by flagship state-owned firm Sonatrach in return for commissions.

Khelil is also wanted by Italy in connection with bribes paid to high-ranking Algerian officials, including in Sonatrach, to obtain markets in the North African country for Italian oil service group Saipem.

The Italian justice authorities are trying to retrieve $123 million (92.6 million euros) which were allegedly deposited in bank accounts in Singapore and Hong Kong managed by Bedjaoui, who is said to be based in Dubai and a holder of a French passport.

Media reports in Algeria and Italy say that Bedjaoui is suspected of being the middle-man who paid the commissions in return for oil contracts granted to Saipem, a subsidiary of Italian energy giant ENI.

The Milan prosecution has issued international arrest warrants for both Khelil and Bedjaoui.

Italian judge Alfonsa Ferraro, quoted by the Corriere della Sera newspaper, has said that Saipem won eight contracts in Algeria for a total value of eight million euros.

In return Saipem allegedly paid $197 million in bribes which it declared as intermediary fees placed with the Hong Kong-based Pearl Partners Limited company controlled by Bedjaoui, the Italian paper reported.

Algerian Justice Minister Mohamed Charfi told parliament in July that an investigation into Sonatrach had revealed that corruption was at an international level, and that France, Italy and Switzerland were helping in the probe since 2012.

Khelil was sacked as energy minister in May 2010 amid accusations of corruption within his team.

He had held the post for 10 years and previously headed Sonatrach.

Sonatrach is responsible for 95 percent of Algerian oil and gas exports, and is the top earner of foreign currency for the North African country.

Ranked top energy company in Africa and 12th in the world, Sonatrach has operations in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the United States and had a turnover of around $56 billion in 2010, according to the company's official website.

In January, Islamist gunmen took hundreds of hostages when they overran a plant jointly run by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and Sonatrach near In Amenas in the Algerian desert.

A four-day siege and two rescue attempts by the Algerian army resulted in the deaths of 38 hostages -- 37 foreigners and an Algerian.

Sonatrach was also tainted by scandal in January 2010 when its chief executive officer Mohamed Meziane was sacked over allegations of corruption.

In Decemebr 2011, he was sentenced to two years in prison for embezzlement, and other company officials have also been jailed as part of the case.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130812/arrest-warrant-issued-algeria-ex-energy-minister-1