Sixteen defendants including foreigners to stand trial over East-West highway bribery scandal
The Criminal Court in the capital Algiers opened on Wednesday the so-called “East-West Highway” corruption file with on trial 16 Algerian defendants along with seven foreign companies suspected of involvement in shady practices and graft in the financial management of this mega project.
However, the lawyers are expecting the repetition of the same scenario of a last-minute postponement of the case similarly to what happened recently with the so-called “Sonatrach file 01” “because of the long list of witnesses”.
The defense is expected to call in some experts for testimony and to summon via the presiding judge the former Minister of public works Amar Ghoul to attend the hearing and to testify personally before the criminal court about the ins and outs of this bribery affair.
A lawyer, requesting anonymity, argued in a statement to “Echorouk” that the trial would probably be postponed, mostly for the purpose of summoning the manifold witnesses, noting that the list had been worked out during the lengthy investigation.
He added that lawyers will provide names of all witnesses to be called up by the prosecution, with the prime focus being on those linked to the sector of public works, so as to expound the case to the Court, particularly that there is no material blow dealt to the relevant Ministry on the basis of the findings of the protracted judicial investigation.
Meanwhile, as the graft wars intensify between factions of Algerian officialdom, several defendants are appearing in court in connection with gross financial lapses and irregularities on contracts with Chinese companies in the East-West Highway project.
Beijing denied all wrongdoing and its Ambassador firmly dismissed accusations of corruption against CITIC-CRCC (a consortium of CITIC Group and the China Railway Construction Corporation) in the East-West contracts as ‘without foundation’.
Instead, he seemed to blame some Western companies for the corruption probes, arguing that some of Algeria’s traditional partners ‘felt threatened by the Chinese presence’.
A Chinese consortium defeated major international competitors to win a US$ 8 billion contract to build the mega highway in Algeria, the largest overseas construction project secured by Chinese companies.
“Citic Group” and “China Railway Construction Corp” (CRCC) were awarded the contract by the Algerian government ahead of several other consortiums, including those led by Bouygues of France, Bechtel of the United States, Taisei of Japan and Bilfinger of Germany.