'Madame Maya': Supposed hidden daughter of Bouteflika loses appeal against jail sentence
An Algerian businesswoman, rumoured to be the "hidden daughter" of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, lost her appeal on Thursday against a 12-year prison sentence.
Zoulikha-Chafika Nachinache, widely known as "Madame Maya", had been imprisoned for money laundering "in the context of an organised criminal association", "complicity in the abuse of office", "requesting and accepting undue benefits through the use of a public official" and "complicity in the granting of undue benefits".
A court in Tipaza, near the capital Algiers, upheld the sentences passed against Nachinache and 13 other defendants - including her daughters Imene and Farah - in mid-October by a lower court.
During the October sentencing, Nachinache also received a six million dinar fine ($47,000) and the confiscation of her assets, while her daughters received five-year prison sentences.
Other defendants in the case included former ministers Mohamed el-Ghazi and Abdelghani Zaalane, who also previously served as Bouteflika's election campaign manager, Abdelghani Hamel, the former director-general of national security, and several investors.
Ghazi and Hamel were sentenced to 10 years in prison and Zaalane to eight years in October. Those sentences were also upheld on Thursday.
Kilos of gold jewellery
Nachinache had been arrested along with her two daughters in July 2019 and had 12 billion Algerian dinars ($909,000), euros 270,000 ($328,000), 17kg of gold jewellery and several travel documents confiscated by investigators at her Moretti home in the west of Algiers.
During the appeal process, Nachinache denied she claimed to be Bouteflika's daughter, stating that her late father was a friend of the former president. Nachinache admitted that the facilities she had benefited from over her investment projects had been granted following Bouteflika's intervention and that of his private secretary, Mohamed Rougab, in her business ventures.
The common knowledge of Nachinache’s status as a possible Bouteflika child would have opened many doors for her and her business ventures
Little is known about Bouteflika’s own marriage (he married the daughter of an Algerian diplomat in 1999 but reportedly did not share the same residence), given the secrecy shrouding the Bouteflika clan.
Due to the bureaucratic nature under which Algeria operates, the common knowledge of Nachinache’s status as a possible Bouteflika child would have opened many doors for her and her business ventures.
Previous reports in the Algerian daily El Watan indicated how Nachinache's rise to the ranks of the presidential circle may also be owed to the fact that Bouteflika knew her father, who was a veteran of the War of Independence.
According to an article published in October by Le Point, a French weekly political and news magazine based in Paris, Nachinache, who was already working in business, was able to secure meetings with the Bouteflika administration and acquire land in Chlef, in the north of Algeria, for her leisure park, which had previously been blocked.
Le Point said Nachinache also owned luxury cars and villas in the upscale Hydra and Ben Aknoun neighbourhoods of Algiers, and rented out offices to the UN in the area.
She also reportedly invested €1.5m ($1.75m) in property in Spain.
According to the magazine, Rougab would often introduce her to the former president’s entourage as a member of his family, which would help her secure meetings with top officials and set up back-channel money ventures while enjoying police protection.
Nachinache's 2017 venture into Oran, a port in northwest Algeria, to open another business and to get Zaalene’s help in finding a frozen meat importer land for its facilities, caused her demise.
Zaalene, who had a close relationship with Bouteflika’s brother Said - who is largely believed to have run affairs in Algeria following his brother’s debilitating stroke in 2013 - raised concerns with the latter, who in turn denied Nachinache was his brother’s daughter. Zaalene ordered the intelligence services to launch an investigation into the businesswoman, which resulted in her short detention.
Algeria's crackdown on figures from the Bouteflika era, initially led by the army's late chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah, following Bouteflika’s departure in April 2019, and since carried out by current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, is seen by observers as less about justice and more about political clan in-fighting, as each side attempts to gain a hold of the country's seat of power.
Gaid Salah, who had presented himself as a man of modest means fit to fight corruption, was the subject of reports last year that detailed his and his entourage’s colossal wealth. The details were believed to have been spread by Tebboune's political clan, looking to ensure loyalists to both Gaid Salah and Bouteflika were prevented from making a grab for power.
Algeria's crackdown on figures from the Bouteflika era … is seen by observers as less about justice and more about political clan in-fighting
Many of them have been imprisoned and replaced in military, intelligence and political circles with those loyal to the current president and his decision-makers.
Said was one of the first from Bouteflika's entourage to be arrested, a month prior to his brother’s resignation, after Gaid Salah became aware of his intentions to depose him. He is currently imprisoned in Algiers, along with a number of former prime ministers, ministers and businessmen linked to the Bouteflika presidency.
Little is known about Bouteflika or his health since he was forced to step down after 20 years in power, following nationwide mass protests in 2019.