An Algerian court Thursday jailed 14 people and fined seven foreign companies after they were found guilty of corruption, money laundering, and embezzling public funds in a huge highway construction project.
Judge Tayeb Hallali ordered the seven firms foreign to pay $56.4 million each, according to a report by the independent Middle East Eye. The firms haven’t been publicly identified. They’re reportedly from China, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, and Portugal.
The criminal court in Algiers sentenced Chani Mejdoub, a financial consultant who also holds Luxembourg nationality, and Mohamed Khelladi, a former high-ranking official at the ministry of public works, to 10 years in prison. The court also fined them more than $33 million each and seized their property.
Both have been in jail for several years.
Two other defendants including a former colonel in the secret service were sentenced to three years in prison.
Eight defendants were given suspended sentences and two others were acquitted, MEE said.
The highway project started in 2006. It was originally a $6 billion, 730-mile east-west corridor across northern Algeria. The cost has now risen to between $13 billion and $17 billion. Parts of the project assigned to the Asian contractors aren’t finished.
The corruption trial opened last month.
A story from the Daily Star (Lebanon) said bribes worth $5 billion could have been paid in connection with the project.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika considered the highway one of his flagship projects but the local press has branded it the “scandal of the century.”
Richard L. Cassin is the publisher and editor of the FCPA Blog. He can be contacted here.