Algiers - Five Algerian billionaires, some of them close to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika who quit over mass protests, have been arrested as part of an anti-graft investigation, Algerian state TV said on Monday. The five are Issad Rebrab, considered the richest businessman in the energy-rich north African nation, and four brothers from the Kouninef family, it said. The move came after Algeria’s army chief, Lieutenant General Gaid Salah, said last week he expected members of the ruling elite in the major oil and natural gas-producing country to be prosecuted for corruption.
An Algerian court has already summoned former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia and current Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, two close associates of Bouteflika, in a investigation into suspected misuse of public money, state TV said on Saturday.
Bouteflika stepped down two weeks ago after 20 years in power, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations by mainly younger Algerians seeking change. But the protests, which began on Feb. 22 and have been largely peaceful, have continued as many want the removal of an entire elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962. They also want the prosecution of people they see as corrupt. Bouteflika has been replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, as interim president for 90 days until a presidential election is held on July 4. Hundreds of thousands protested on Friday to demand the resignation of Bensalah and other top officials.