General Toufik: Algeria’s God
An Open Letter to Mohamed “Toufik” Mediène
Hocine Malti, Algeria-Watch, 16 february 2013
Hocine Malti, former vice-CEO of Sonatrach (1972-1975), is the author of Histoire secrète du pétrole algérien (La Découverte, Paris, 2010). First French version of this paper is here.
This time it is not your staff investigators I’m addressing myself to but you, Rab Dzayer, « God of Algeria”, head of the almighty DRS (Department of Intelligence and Security) since 1990. Wasn’t this the way you presented yourself one day in 1999, under circumstances you well know? As the popular saying goes, « It’s better to speak to God than to his saints » — which is what I’m doing today. Given that you are in a position to decide and impose what you deem fit to all of Algeria, to every man and woman and, most particularly, to every civil, military, political and legal authority, I am convinced that you will provide positive answers and follow-up to the questions and requests that I herein submit.
We have just learned that on February 10, 2013, the Prosecutor of Algiers decided to launch a new investigation concerning corruption within the national oil & gas conglomerate, a dossier that he has designated « Sonatrach 2 » (1). In order to give the impression that they are tuned in to public opinion — without acknowledging that they are in fact following on the heels of their Italian colleagues — the Algerian judges indicated in their official statement that they had launched this investigation following information reported in the national press, which, as you know, merely reported the decisions of the Milan Prosecutor as diffused by Italian media. But we Algerians know the truth: our judges were in fact waiting for your instructions before deciding whether to act or to ignore the media uproar of these past days. If they have instigated this new investigation it is because you, Rab Dzayer, have given the green light.
Is the green light that you have conferred clear, definite and permanent or is it furtive and blinking? Will the judges in charge of the case be able to carry out all the necessary investigations, pursue them until truth be determined, carry out all appropriate perquisitions, bring before investigators and the Court every person implicated in any way whatsoever in this matter? Simply put, will they be able to act solely according to the dictates of their conscience or will they be obliged to obtain your green light at every step along the way? Are we going to see Chakib Khelil, Farid Bedjaoui, Mohamed Bedjaoui, Reda Hemche, Pierre Falcone, Samyr Ouraied and tutti quanti auditioned one after the other in the judge’s chambers before possibly being indicted and then, who knows, perhaps even condemned? As you are aware, some of the aforementioned have acted as intermediaries on behalf of silent partners invisible to the eyes of common mortals, but which you, God of Algeria, know only too well. Is it then too naive to imagine that a certain number of your colleagues, Generals or Major-Generals, Ministers, shady businessmen, other personalities who make up the pyramid of which you are the apex as well as members of a certain clan (2) will also be brought to justice?
Will we also see the Italian, Chinese, French or Canadian corruptors — the list is far from being exhaustive — testify before the Court or answer to their acts before a rogatory commission? Or, as usual, will only the « small fry » be the targets of this new procedure? The Italians have not hesitated to shine a light into the darkest corners: what they’ve discovered and revealed is however merely the visible part of the iceberg. They have gone after the highest level managers at ENI, who in their country are powerful political figures — as opposed to Algeria, where Sonatrach executives, including the CEO, are but technocrats fronting for those who really exercise power, such as you. So will you do as the Italians are doing? Or will it be necessary to listen in on the happenings at the Milan Prosecutor’s office to find out the sad reality of our country and discover how certain personalities whom you know perfectly well, persons you have often frequented during your long professional career, have stuffed their pockets with millions of dollars and Euros plundered from Algeria’s oil revenues? And all this with your tacit agreement, if not your blessing. Do you know the three terms that business and financial circles worldwide use to qualify Algeria? Corruption, incompetence and criminality.
Corruption, indeed, since Algeria was classed in 2012 105th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s ranking, corruption that has become widespread over the past thirty years. Since 1999, with the complicity of your president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, — and I say your president because it is you and your General friends who chose and imposed him upon the Algerian people – you have transformed Algeria into a land of plenty for a certain caste whose dealings you have covered up if not encouraged to act. Since 1999 the two of you have engaged in an unending guerilla war-like dispute for control and power: Abdelaziz Bouteflika trying to be something other than « three-quarters of a President » and you defining the red lines over which not to cross? All of this with often tragic and cruel consequences for the Algerian people! You have made managing the affairs of the country a private playground in which the only ones allowed to intervene are the infernal couple the two of you make up and your two clans. The destiny of this country has been and continues to be for you both a chess game in which each of you in turn tries to advance his pawns, mark points against his opponent, without either of you succeeding to check or mate the other.
What you are seeking in this hushed-up struggle, invisible to the untrained eye but nevertheless ferocious, is not only to affirm your supremacy but also — and especially — to lay hands on this country’s wealth, an objective for which, despite your bickering, you share an unfailing solidarity. In each of the two clans, your respective henchmen have taken advantage of the guarantee of impunity you have afforded them and stuffed their pockets, garnishing to the hilt their bank accounts and tax havens. But not only that. They have also acquired sumptuous residences, notably in the most chic quarters of Paris, haciendas in Latin America, palaces in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, and offered their children the latest model luxury cars which are then indecently exhibited in the streets of Algiers while others rummage in garbage dumps and landfills for food to feed themselves and their children. Many of your acolytes have decorated their mistresses with jewels, dressed them in Haute Couture and availed them with first-class airline tickets that they have not even paid for. These are VIP, they get this genre of knick-knacks!
Where do they get all this money? First of all, from commissions perceived from foreign companies which have found in your respective succor the mother lode guaranteeing them fabulous contracts in Algeria. Or from import-import operations which have flourished over the past twenty years; monopolies on imports that some — and you know perfectly well who — have self-attributed; fraudulent set-ups of phony bank loans which have become an Algerian specialty; customs « agreements » on false imports or exports. And much more that I can’t even begin to enumerate, such being the panoply of fraudulent operations which appeared in the 1980s and have become widespread since 1999; such being the fertile imaginations of the members of your two clans to create niches from which to extract the maximum of profits. You and Abdelaziz Bouteflika knew all this, but you let it happen. And the day that it becomes necessary to put the adverse clan in a difficult situation, you will need but to disclose compromising files that you detain on the other. A perfect example being the BRC affair, which exploded in 2006 and in which millions of dollars were embezzled by some of your acquaintances as well as by certain corrupt Americans!
To your great satisfaction, oil prices — and revenues — have skyrocketed over the past twenty years, thereby facilitating these wheelings and dealings. Such revenues have permitted you and Abdelaziz Bouteflika to buy consciences and support from inside and outside the country, to finance parties in Algeria and abroad, and, finally, to reinforce and perpetuate your power, up to the point that you, yourself, have become Rab Dzayer.
Incompetence is the other term used in foreign business circles to characterize Algeria. They of course know that all Algerians — thank God! — are not incompetent, although the overwhelming majority of those with whom they are in contact are just that. How can we explain this particularity? The Algerian upper-level managers they meet and with whom they have business dealings have been chosen and placed in their positions of responsibility by none other than you two. Now the fundamental criterion for you in this choice is, above all the rest, obedience to the clan chief, not competence. In your microcosm, only the “yes man” can succeed. As proof one need only look at the obsequiousness and servility of the persons in your entourage. These “yes men” moreover help you to marginalize competent people, who risk upstaging them.
Finally they speak of criminality. What a horrible term when investors speak about Algeria. Criminality, of course, since even before going to Algiers, foreign businessmen will have been approached by the missi dominici of the Algerian godfather charged with the affair who will indicate the terms of the “contract”. Not the contract concerning the project itself, but rather the contract pertaining to the amount of the tithe, the commission to be paid, the account into which the payment will be made. And God knows the voraciousness of these Algerian godfathers who demand percentages far superior to the “average percentages normally perceived”. This commission is included in the total amount of the deal, without being deducted from the profits of the company receiving the contract, such that the commission is not particularly bothersome. It is this greed, this voracity, which leads others to speak of criminality. Poor Algeria, what have they done to you?
Rab Dzayer, are you today willing to erase these infamous marks that dishonor the image of this country? Gods can do that. You, yourself, have proved this on several occasions. For just once will you be able to put a stop to this kind of behavior? Will you be more perspicacious, more efficient than the Italians who have announced 200 million Euros in kickbacks? For a series of contracts totaling 11 billion, the 200 million Euros-worth of announced commissions represents less than 2 percent. There is just one comment we can make here: Ridiculous!
P.S. Dear God of Algeria, One last request: Will you authorize the Algerian press to publish this letter?
(1) Sonatrach – refers to the Algerian state oil and natural gas company.
(2) This refers to Abdelaziz Bouteflika, president of Algeria since 1999.