Lawyers fear for Medjdoub Chani's life
(CS/AFP) The lawyers of Medjdoub Chani, an Algerian Luxembourg national who was sentenced to ten years by a court in Algiers in a corruption trial earlier this year, fear for his life after he was transferred to another prison.
Chani was moved to Bordj Bou Arréridj, around 200 kilometres from Algiers on Monday, his lawyers said in a joint statement, just three days before a hearing in Algiers. The lawyers said that the move was “a deliberate act” putting the life of their defendant at risk.
Chani entered a hunger strike following in protest of his sentence, which has left the 63-year-old weakened after 45 days. At a meeting with his lawyers on Sunday, he appeared in a wheelchair, they said.
The hearing comes after errors in the trial's procedure relating to part of the charges caused the verdict to be overturned in cassation.
14 jailed and firms fined
Dubbed by Algerian media as the "scandal of the century", the trial, which started in April, saw 14 people jailed and foreign firms fined on charges of corruption, money laundering and embezzlement of public funds in connection with the construction of a key highway.
The Algiers criminal court sentenced Chani, a financial consultant, and Mohamed Khelladi, a former high-ranking official at the ministry of public works, to ten years. The pair - who have already been behind bars for several years - were also ordered to pay a fine of 30,000 euros each and the court seized their property.
A businessman and another former official at the public works ministry were sentenced to seven years in jail each. Three-year jail sentences were handed to two other defendants, including a former secret service colonel who also worked for the justice ministry.
Eight defendants were give a one-year suspended sentence each, while two others were acquitted.
Seven firms - including from China, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Spain and Portugal - were each fined 50 million euros.
Exploding costs of motorway project
Work on the motorway started in 2006 and was scheduled to last four years at a total cost then of 6 billion USD.
But the construction, allocated to a consortium from Japan and another from China, has yet to be completed. Officials said the cost has risen to 13 billion USD while other sources put the final bill at 17 billion USD.
Press reports have said bribes worth 5 billion USD were paid during the construction of the 1,200-kilometre east-west highway which runs through northern Algeria.
During the trial a defendant accused former public works minister Amar Ghoul - who currently holds the transport portfolio - of having pocketed a quarter of the kickbacks, a claim denied by Ghoul. Similar allegations were made against former justice minister and foreign minister Mohamed Bedjaoui.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika considered the highway one of his flagship projects.
Claims of torture and abuse
The family of Chani have denied any wrong-doing, with his wife saying that he was a victim of a power struggle between the president, the military and the secret service. Chani was arrested during a visit from Luxembourg to Algeria to see his ailing mother in 2009. He has since been in custody.
His lawyers say that he was tortured and forced to sign a confession, claims which the court chose to ignore during trial.
Chani moved to the Grand Duchy in the 1980s after meeting in Luxembourgish wife, Margy Chani-Pesch in Algeria. The pair have two sons, who have not seen their father in six years. Chani-Pesch last travelled to Algeria in 2012 but has since been advised not to do so again for her own safety.
Earlier this month, Chani's wife and a number of protesters called on the Chamber of Deputies for help in the case, with president Mars Di Bartolomeo assuring his support.