Algiers - 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
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 $123m
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
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 €8m.
In return Saipem allegedly paid $197m 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% of Algerian oil and gas
exports, and is the top earner of foreign currency for the North African
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 $56bn in 2010, according to the company's official
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
In December 2011, he was sentenced to two years in prison
for embezzlement, and other company officials have also been jailed as part of