Algeria businessmen probed for 'corruption, money transfers'

Announcement comes days after authorities arrested prominent businessmen Ali Haddad at border with Tunisia.

    Algeria businessmen probed for 'corruption, money transfers'
    Prosecutors said they had banned corruption suspects from leaving Algeria [Mohamed/Messara/EPA]

    Algerian authorities have seized the passports of seven businessmen under investigation over corruption allegations, the private Ennahar TV reported on Monday.

    On Sunday, authorities also arrested Ali Haddad, a leading Algerian businessman who was part of the inner circle of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, whose office said he would resign before his fourth term expires on April 28 after more than a month of mass protests against his rule. 

    One of the country's richest men, Haddad was caught with large sums of money trying to cross into neighbouring Tunisialocal media said.

    Authorities had on Sunday banned all private aircraft from taking off and landing until the end of the month.

    Demonstrators in the North African country, an oil and gas producer, want a new generation of leaders to replace a ruling elite seen by many ordinary Algerians as out of touch and unable to jump-start a faltering economy hampered by cronyism.

    Authorities did not say who was being targeted by the new investigations into corruption and illegal money transfers abroad.

    Seeking to defuse the demonstrations, Bouteflika said on March 11 he was dropping plans for a fifth term. But he stopped short of stepping down immediately, to wait for a national conference on political change.

    That further enraged protesters, prompting the army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, to step in by proposing last week to ask the constitutional council to see whether he is still fit for office.

    Late on Sunday, Ennahar and El Bilad TV channels said that Bouteflika might resign this week. The government has not commented on the reports.

    Protests continue

    Despite Bouteflika's resignation, Algerian students on social networks called for large protests to be held on Tuesday in the capital and the rest of the country.

    Mohamed, a member of a student union in Algiers, said that the departure of Bouteflika is not "enough".

    "It does not change anything. He will leave but the same regime, which has ruled Algeria since 1962 and its independence, will stay if we don't continue to protest. What we want is not only Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down, but we also want the creation of a new political system," he told Al Jazeera.

    Likewise, Amel, a computer engineer who lives in Algiers, said she is not satisfied with Bouteflika's decision. "He is only the tip of the iceberg. The ruling elite, who is clinging to power, is trying to distract us with the President's resignation. But we are not duped," Amel told Al Jazeera.

    Amina, an undergraduate student at Algiers School of Architecture, who said that she would take part in a gathering against the government tomorrow, described Bouteflika's last announcement as "a small victory".

    "It is a first step but this is not our final goal. We won't be successful if Bouteflika resigns while the old guard remains after April 28. They must all leave. Now more than ever, we need to stay united and peacefully demonstrate against the regime," Amina told Al Jazeera.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies