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Algeria court sentences Bouteflika's brother Said to 15 years in prison

Two former spy chiefs also convicted of 'undermining the authority of the army' and 'conspiring' against the state
Said Bouteflika, centre, was widely seen as the real power behind the presidency after his brother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013 (AFP)

An Algerian military court has sentenced the brother of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and three co-defendants to 15 years in prison, state news agency APS reported on Wednesday.

Said Bouteflika, widely seen as the real power behind the presidency after his brother suffered a debilitating stroke in 2013, went on trial on Monday alongside two former intelligence chiefs and a political party leader.

Their convictions are the most high-profile in a string of prosecutions of prominent politicians and businessmen over alleged fraud launched since Bouteflika was pushed out in April after two decades in power.

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All four defendants were convicted of "undermining the authority of the army" and "conspiring" against the state in order to bring about regime change, in the run-up to the ageing president's resignation in the face of mass protests earlier this year.

Prosecutors at the military court in Blida, south of Algiers, had asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years against all the defendants, defence lawyer Miloud Ibrahimi said.

Former defence minister Khaled Nezzar has said that as protests mounted against the veteran leader, Said Bouteflika proposed declaring a state of emergency and firing army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Workers' Party chief Louisa Hanoune admitted she met the president's brother and General Mohamed Mediene on 27 March, a day after Gaid Salah publicly called for the ailing president to step down.

Both Hanoune and Mediene - the latter having headed the all-powerful secret service for 25 years - and fellow former spy chief General Athmane Tartag were given 15 years alongside Said Bouteflika.

Fugitive in Spain

Nezzar, his son Lofti, and a former businessman Farid Benhamdine, were all sentenced to 20 years in absentia, APS said.

The retired general has been on the run for weeks in Spain, where he has been joined by his son, according to Algerian media reports.

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Nezzar was at the head of the army in 1992 when it cancelled the electoral process, denying Islamist parties a victory at the polls and pitching the country into a devastating, decade-long civil war. 

A Swiss court in mid-2018 cleared the way for Nezzar to face war crimes charges after he was arrested in Switzerland.

In a complaint filed by rights group Trial International, a group of alleged victims accused him of torture and arbitrary arrests, AFP news agency reported.

Said Bouteflika's detention in May was part of a wave of arrests targeting the ousted president's inner circle.

But many fear their arrests are little more than a high-level purge and a power struggle between still-powerful regime insiders, rather than a genuine effort to reform the state.

Adjournment request denied

The hearings were restricted to lawyers and defendants' families, with media kept out of the courtroom.

Mediene, whose health has been deteriorating according to his family, arrived in court in a wheelchair and asked for an adjournment, according to defence lawyers. 

The judge consulted a doctor and turned down the request.

Also known as General Toufik, Mediene headed the all-powerful DRS intelligence agency from its foundation in 1990 up to his fall from grace in 2015.

Tartag, his deputy, succeeded Mediene. When the DRS was officially dismantled in 2016, he served as Algeria's security coordinator under the supervision of the presidency.

Presidential elections have now been set for 12 December. But protesters have kept up demands for political reforms and the removal of the former president's loyalists, including army chief Gaid Salah, who has emerged as Algeria's strongman since Bouteflika's fall.

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