Algeria ex-oil minister says ready to face graft trial at home

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 14, 2013 10:57 AM
Algeria ex-oil minister says ready to face graft trial at home

By Hamid Ould Ahmed

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Former Algerian energy minister Chakib Khelil, wanted in connection with a suspected corruption case involving Algeria's Sonatrach and Italy's Eni, said he was ready to return home to be tried but demanded a fair hearing.

Algeria's attorney general said on Monday international arrest warrants had been issued for Khelil, his wife and two of his sons, as well as five other people.

Algeria launched the investigation in February after Milan prosecutors said they were investigating Eni head Paolo Scaroni over alleged bribes paid to win contracts in Algeria for Saipem, in which Eni holds a 43 percent stake.

Khelil, who held the job of oil minister between 1999 and 2010, is a close ally of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and seen as a powerful figure in political and diplomatic circles.

Since leaving office, he has spent time in the United States, where his sons live.

"I'm ready to come to Algeria at any moment and accept to be tried, but on one condition: That the trial takes place in accordance with fair legal procedures," Khelil told Algeria's independent newspaper El Bilad on Wednesday.

He gave no details about what he would consider constituting a fair investigation or trial.

The attorney general said Khelil and the other suspects were accused of corruption, peddling influence, abuse of office, money laundering and procurement of contracts contrary to the law.

"We are innocent of all what has been attributed to us," the Arabic-language daily reported him as saying about himself and his family, speaking from Washington, where he is staying.

Eni, Scaroni and Saipem, Europe's biggest oil services group, have also denied wrongdoing.

Both Eni and Saipem have important contracts in Algeria, which supplies Italy with about 30 percent of its natural gas.

Sonatrach is the sole partner of foreign oil firms in Algeria. The current energy minister, Youcef Yousfi, has said the judiciary should be allowed the time to take whatever measures are needed.

(Editing by Alison Williams)