Khalifa: New developments in Algeria’s « Trial of the century »

New developments in Algeria’s « Trial of the century »

By Adel Dekkaki for Magharebia in Washington, 16/03/2007

While the trial continues in the El Khalifa Group affair, Algerian officials await news of the extradition of Rafik Abdelmoumen Khalifa, recently arrested in Britain. Legal and political experts wonder what effect his arrest may have on the trial currently underway in Algeria.

Algerians reacted with great interest to the news of British authorities’ arrest of Rafik Abdelmoumen Khalifa, chairman of the collapsed El Khalifa Group, on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Khalifa is the person most wanted by Algerian authorities in what has become known as the « trial of the century ». Magharebia conducted an interview with Jamal Lalami, a journalist in the political bureau of Algerian daily Al-Shurouq, which has been following the El Khalifa Group affair since its beginning.

Magharebia: British police have announced the arrest of Abdelmoumen Khalifa, before releasing him on bail. How has this news been received in Algerian political and media circles?

Jamal Lalami: Those in Algerian circles are dealing with the news of the arrest of Abdelmoumen Khalifa on several levels: firstly on the official level, the Minister of the Interior Yazid Zarhouni and Prime Minister Abdel Aziz Belkhadem have announced confirmation of the news, since they acknowledged [having] received notification from British authorities as to the apprehending of Abdelmoumen Khalifa. On the media level, there are six newspapers which were fortunate enough to publish the scoop and announce Khalifa’s arrest, after which the news was reported by other papers. Then, on the legal level, the Algerian justice authorities received the news with relief, because it reflects an advancement in the way British authorities are dealing with extradition and deportation.

Magharebia: How will this affect the proceedings in the El Khalifa Group trial now taking place in the town of Blida?

Jamal Lalami: If the extradition goes ahead before the end of the current trial, then, according to certain lawyers, it will turn the trial on its head. However, certain observers in Algeria with a connection to the case have confirmed the trial will go ahead in the usual way, and judgments will be handed down until [Khalifa is tried] on his own, as was previously announced in Algiers. Therefore, the deportation and extradition of Abdelmoumen Khalifa to Algerian authorities before the conclusion of the trial will not affect the course of the hearings.

Magharebia: Are there any assurances that British authorities will extradite Abdelmoumen Khalifa to Algeria?

Jamal Lalami: Algerian authorities are waiting for March 20th, the date of Khalifa’s next appearance before British police. Until then, there could be further developments in the extradition case, which means we will have to wait until [that date] to know what will happen.

Magharebia: There has been conflicting information concerning the nature of Khalifa’s residency in Britain. He stated that he had obtained political asylum, yet British police have announced that he faces a charge of illegal residence in Britain — is there any explanation for this?

Jamal Lalami: Abdelmoumen Khalifa said in previous conversations with the media that he had obtained political asylum in Britain, but his arrest by the British police confirms, according to Algerian politicians and media professionals, that he had made false statements and assertions. Information coming from British authorities confirms that the decision to apprehend Khalifa was made on two charges, the first being that he was residing illegally — he is being held in a special detention centre for individuals residing illegally in Britain. The second charge is money-laundering, and it has been confirmed, I believe, that Khalifa was in possession of a visa which expired in March 2004, and so it follows that his obtaining political asylum [was fabricated] to try to obscure the issue and conceal some of the facts.

Magharebia: What are the wider implications of the El Khalifa case in Algeria, the « trial of the century », on the laws and procedures for investment in Algeria?

Jamal Lalami: There are new procedures being taken on a governmental level, particularly with the Ministry of Finance and Banking, and the Inspectorate-General of Finance in order to toughen up the monitoring of investments and the disbursing of bank loans. These new procedures are aimed at preventing a repetition of the scandal in which the collapsed El Khalifa group was implicated.