Algerian court jails six in oil firm corruption case

ALGIERS (Reuters) - An Algerian court jailed six people on Tuesday in a corruption case involving state energy firm Sonatrach, including a former vice president and an ex-state bank chief, and it fined two local subsidiaries for their role.

The verdicts in the so-called “Sonatrach 1” case come at a time when sliding global oil prices have significantly hit state finances in Algeria, an OPEC member, and Sonatrach is struggling to attract sorely needed foreign investment.

The charges against the defendants included corruption, money laundering, awarding contracts contrary to the law and regulations and hiking the prices of contracts, state news agency APS reported.

The Algiers criminal court handed five-year jail terms against Belkacem Boumediene, a former vice-president for upstream at Sonatrach, against the son of a former Sonatrach chief and a former director of a state bank, APS said.

It also dished out six-year prison sentences to Mohamed Reda al-Ismail, who heads the Algerian-German firm Contel Funkwerk, to a second son of Sonatrach’s ex-chief and to the son of a state bank head.

Former Sonatrach chief executive Mohamed Meziane received a five-year suspended sentence.

Most of those who received jail sentences on Tuesday will likely be released soon because they have served pre-trial detention terms.

The court also imposed a fine worth four million dinars ($38,000) on Contel-Funkwerk and Saipem Contracting Algeria.

The corruption case was linked to equipment supplies for Sonatrach.

Algeria, a major gas supplier to Europe, has been trying to attract foreign energy companies to help it offset stagnating oil and gas output after two energy bidding rounds failed to attract large groups of investors.

Algeria relies heavily on its oil and gas sales, which account for 95 percent of exports and 60 percent of the state budget.

Despite the slump in global oil prices, the large North African state still has more than $130 billion in reserves it says will help cushion it from the fallout.

Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Patrick Markey and Gareth Jones