Sonatrach: Algeria’s Energy Company, 50 Years Later

Sonatrach: Algeria’s Energy Company, 50 Years Later1

By Hocine Malti2 , December 25, 2013

In a few days, Sonatrach, the Algerian energy company, will celebrate its 50th anniversary. I am not sure how to begin reflecting upon its half century of history. Should 31 December [2013] be cause for celebration? Or should it be more somberly noted that on that date, the national oil company marked its 50th year of existence. A celebration usually includes a formal ceremony that takes place in an atmosphere of joy, if not jubilation.

Does such an atmosphere exist today in Sonatrach or even in Algeria? Obviously not!

How can Sonatrach’s anniversary be celebrated when the enterprise has been transformed into something a kin to a black hole managed by “Ali Baba and his more than 40 thieves?” What a coincidence! Ali Baba has the same initials as a certain “Abdelaziz” who has already proven his capabilities elsewhere.3 Already in the 1980s, this “Abdelaziz,” pioneer in the field, was sentenced by the Algerian Court of Accounts for embezzlement of funds from Algerian foreign embassies under his tutelage when he served as the country’s foreign minister.

owever, the day of reckoning will come for all of these Algerian Mafiosi. Then all their names will be revealed as well as how they conspired with each other, and the sums of public moneys diverted into their personal accounts. Many of their activities have already been cited by the Italian, Canadian or American courts, but curiously not in Algeria itself, the country they have defrauded, the country of their parents.

You understood, of course, that I am referring to this particular gang composed of Chakib Khelil,4 Farid Bedjaoui 5and others, whose names have become sadly familiar to us. At their day of reckoning, they will then be obliged to disclose their misdeeds with SNC-Lavalin and Saipem, the names of their sponsors, as well as other cases that we do not even suspect today. I would not like to find myself in the shoes of “Said” Bouteflika on that day.

Consequences of Tiguentourine: The reorganization of the DRS imposed by Western powers

How to celebrate this anniversary while Sonatrach and beyond it, the Algerian army and security services are under pressure and blackmail of Anglo-Saxon oil companies? You remember Tiguentourine6? You remember that a commando of some forty armed men had traveled safely over a thousand kilometers across the Sahara despite the check – points of the army, despite the images provided by American satellites and despite the drones covering the territory? You remember of course that that commando had penetrated to the heart of the industrial facilities and to the living quarters of the personnel and had taken hostages. You also know that the operation had ended in a bloodbath, that at least 70 people were – killed by missiles fired from helicopters DRS7 – and caused considerable damage in the gas production center.

Less appreciated by now coming to light are the consequences of this operation on Sonatrach and on the Algerian country as a whole. Naturally the companies directly involved i.e. BP and Statoil, but also others, including the U.S., did not remain idly during the months that elapsed since the terrorist attack. They did their own investigations, examining the sequences of the events which transpired both before and during the operation. They drew their own lessons for the future. The U.S. and UK secret services also studied the case and came to their own conclusions.

Then, together, these intelligence services and energy corporations informed Algerians of the results of their investigations and requested action from them. The American and British reached their conclusion: the Tiguentourine operation could not have taken place without complicity of the existing staff in the field, perhaps even with complicity of the Algerian security apparatus. The incompetence of some military leaders also played a role. The high number of casualties could not otherwise be explained.

This analysis had profound consequences for the Algerian power structure. The United States and Great Britain pressed the Algerian government to take sanctions against senior military officials as well as to improve the efficiency between coordination of certain structures of the ANP [Armée Nationale Populaire]. In other words, they were calling for a thorough restructuring of both the DRS (Départment du Renseignement et de la Sécurité) and of the upper ranks of the military. We had to wait until the end of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s long stay of in France before he could sign the orders (which he alone is constitutionally entitled to sign) sending a number of generals or general-majors to retirement, or ending the careers of other senior army officers. All this followed by the required changes in army structures.

Then something rather strange happened. Bouteflika, who had previously been mocked as “only three-quarters of President,” and now was even much less so a result of his illness, was suddenly transformed! Through the magic of a DRS public relations campaign, he was transformed into something approaching an absolute monarch! What followed was a highly orchestrated series of events, which gives credence to the great capacity of the “wicked barons” of the Algerian regime to manipulate public opinion and control events from behind the scenes.

Remember how the Algerian press, in its entirety, reported the event?

It portrayed Abdelaziz Bouteflika, more or less nailed to a wheelchair, severely affected by the stroke he suffered. He was in such poor condition that it was only with great difficulty that he was able to raise a cup of coffee to his lips or to say a few words. He had just returned to Algiers from Paris in a very fragile state. But in spite of his poor health, “miraculously,” this man, tottering on edge of life itself, was “transformed” into a kind of “Superman”; he somehow found the strength to lash out against “Tewfik”8 and strip him of virtually all his power, dismiss his and thus take full control of the army.

Unfortunately the reality is far less dramatic.

The above changes were « suggested” by London and Washington, both of whom insisted that what they referred to as “Algerian shenanigans” had to stop. They were referring to the never-ending internecine struggles of the creation, disintegration of clan alliances9 at the highest levels of government, built on bad compromises. The two capitals have obviously made ??it clear to the Algerians that their infiltration of AQIM was poorly conceived policy – proof is Mokhtar Belmokhtar10 was not a simple dealer, of arms, cigarettes or drugs as Algiers had made ??them believe – and that oil and gas are strategic materials with which they should not play.

The Americans and British have probably asked for even greater changes than those publicly proposed; it seems that “Tewfik” himself was barely able to save his own skin – in large measure thanks to his alliance with the Algerian generals (the so called janviéristes) who lined up in support of him; The sacrificial lambs in this case included others: Athman Tartag Abdelmalek Guenaïzia Rachid Lallali Ahmed Bousteila, Fewzi and M’Henna Djebbar. It was operation « Saving the soldier Tewfik », the last bastion of protection of the clan.

The big sell-off of the national economy

Should we rejoice to the extent of such a situation and say: « Whew! We finally got rid of them »? Of course, not!

First, because the fuss took place only because the CIA, MI5, FBI and Scotland Yard wanted it and acting separately or together dictated their terms to senior officers of the Algerian army.

Secondly, because some of these generals, but also others within the general staff, in the military regions or within the DRS, still on duty or already retired, deserve sanctions far more important than just retirement; and not only for events in Tiguentourine, but for their conduct during the civil war in the country and for the massacres, assassinations and other abuses they have ordered or covered.

Once again, the famous “Black Cabinet”11 has shown its willingness to concede Algerian sovereignty to others. The generals have allowed foreign security services to dictate their conduct to national sovereignty bodies, to foreign powers to interfere in the internal affairs of Algeria.

However, let us not forget that these powers act only according to their own interests. For proof, where were CIA, FBI, MI5 or Scotland Yard when large massacres happened in 1996 and 1997? Why did not they act in order to make appearing before the International Justice the generals who led the massacres of Rais, Bentalha and many other places? But that did not concern them then: It was after all « only few thousand Algerians who were killed! » While today, when their interests and their citizens are affected – which is absolutely deplorable – these powers want to have a say in our internal affairs and the right to act on the ground instead of the units of the ANP.

It is from the moment that these powers arrogated to themselves such rights that Iraq, Libya and Syria have become what they are: Areas of ruins, even if Saddam Hussein was executed, that Muammar Gaddafi has been killed and that Bashar El Assad may leave power one day. Our military leaders are driving us to a similar, if not identical fate. By their incompetence, by their calculations that take in consideration only their own personal interests, by their connivance between clans, by their compromises with foreign vested interests – the sole purpose of which is to enhance their own power and fill their bank accounts – they have now not only allowed the Algerian oil wealth to be placed under the control of foreign companies and Sonatrach under their tutelary, but the Algerian State itself is being stripped of what remains of its sovereignty.

What do we hear, in fact, these days ?

1 / BP and Statoil say they will not return to Tiguentourine since the security pre-conditions that they have set have not been implemented yet. Statoil says: « We cannot say at which date, we will return to In Amenas because the security arrangements in the region are not yet sufficient » And that « the recommendations of our report will form the basis for strengthening the organization of security. » It is very clear.

2 / BP intend to entrust the protection of facilities at Tiguentourine and In Salah to private security companies. In its issue of October 29, Le Soir d’Algerie informed us that  » Stirling, the British security firm of BP has concluded a strategic partnership with Olive, another UK company based in the Emirates, known for the use of mercenary armies to ensure the safety of its industrial sites and personal. » If BP succeeds in imposing this option – and all indications are that it will succeed, otherwise it would not have entered into this partnership – other oil companies present in Algeria will do likewise. What is Sonatrach’s answer, after their howls of outrage that security must be under the sovereignty of the State? “BP could appeal to consultants”; therefore to security specialists, foreign of course, who will dictate to the Algerian security forces their conduct. Where is the state sovereignty in all this?

3 / BP and Statoil play the leading roles, but are not the only ones to demand change. All oil companies are now requiring a new revision of the law on hydrocarbons, because they say, the costs of security have increased by 15 %. In other words, what they want is to pay lower taxes in Algeria.

In sum, foreign companies want to set the safety standards that will be implemented on the Algerian oil installations by themselves, privatize the fight against terrorism by using mercenaries to protect these facilities and impose their own financial conditions for their operations in Algeria.

It was to ensure the independence of the country, so dearly acquired after more than seven years of war that we created Sonatrach, just a year and half after our independence on July 5, 1962.

It was to ensure the sovereignty of the Algerian state on oil wealth that we launched in 1963 the construction of the first 100% Algerian pipeline, even though the public treasury was empty and the Algerian specialists in the field could be counted on the fingers of one hand.

It was as a result of the support and respect of many nations that we, Algerians, dared to put American oil companies under state control.

It was because we wanted to proclaim to the entire world that Algeria wanted to tear off her economic dependence upon others that, on February 24, 1971, we nationalized our country’s entire oil industry.

That was before Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Tewfik Mediène, Khaled Nezzar, Larbi Belkheir and others seize power. This was especially at a time when the current President of the Republic was a pin on the bunting of another president. Is not it, Mr. Nezzar ?

So what do we have to celebrate fifty years later?

Celebrate putting the Algerian state under control of U.S. companies?

Putting Algerian armed forces under control of the CIA because of the briefcases bought by BRC in the United States?

Celebrate the return to the concessions system under which the oil companies dictated the conditions for the exploitation of the hydrocarbon resources of third world countries?

A system which all OPEC countries fought?

Unless we celebrate the billions of dollars stolen by wildlife predators, Algerian and foreign, through « efforts » of Chakib Khelil, Farid Bedjaoui and through the benevolent protection and/or complicity, of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, of Said Bouteflika, of Tewfik Médiene and of the biggest sponsor of all times, Larbi Belkheir?

Unfortunately we can only observe, fifty years later, that the great tool we created December 31, 1963 has passed into the hands of a gang that squeezes it like a lemon to remove the maximum amount of juice. What is the difference, tell me, between this Mafia and the Naples Cosa Nostra or the Medellin cartel? Unlike ours, these two octopuses give food to the poor.

(translation: Rob Prince)

Texte Français original:La Sonatrach : 50 ans après

1 Sonatrach is Algeria’s national energy company (oil and gas). It was born 50 years ago. This open letter is written by Hocine Malti, the author of Histoire Secrète du pétrole algérien. (La Découverte: 2010,2012). Hocine Malti, a petroleum engineer participated in the founding of Sonatrach. He was its vice president from 1972-1975.

2 Hocine Malti, a petroleum engineer participated in the founding of Sonatrach. He was its vice president from 1972-1975. He went on to be an advisor to the executive director of the Oraganization of Arab Petroleum Exporting countries and then executive director the Arab Petroleum Services Company in Tripoli Libya

3 The reference here is to Algeria’s president Abdelaziz Bouteflika

4 Chakib Khelil – former Minister of Energy and Mines, appointed in 2000

5 Farid Bedjaoui – Algerian financial advisor active in Canada, Dubai and Lebanon. According to the Algerian daily Liberté, Farid is the co-owner, along with his brother Reda, of OGEC, a Lebanese engineering and logistical support company active in the oil sector.

6 Tiguentourine is the site of the giant natural gas plant in the southeastern area of Algeria near the Libyan border where, on January 16, 2013 a group of Islamic militants attacked the plant. The attack was finally repulsed, but not before 38 civilians and 29 militants were killed.

7 DRS refers to the Départment du Renseignement et de la Sécurité – the Algerian intelligence apparatus.

8 «Tewfik » is head of the secret service DRS (Département du renseignement et de la sécurité); in other words he is, the real power behind the scenes off Algeria. His exact name is Mohamed Mediene. Tewfik is his code name

9 The Term “clan alliances” is best understood as “network alliances”. Although there are some elements of the former blood-line clans involved in the sense that people of the same network often come from the

10 The allegation that Moktar Belmoktar is an operative of the Algerian security apparatus (the DST) and not a simple radical Islamic fundamentalist « free lancer » has been widely discussed previously. It is only now that U.S. and British intelligence seem to take the allegation seriously.

11 The Algerian Cabinet, controlled behind the scenes by the generals.