ALGIERS,Â Aug 13, 2013Â (AFP)
Chekib Khelil, Algeria’s ex-energy ministerÂ and a once powerful figure in political and diplomatic circles, is now theÂ target of an international arrest warrant for alleged corruption.
Khelil, 74, who attended the same school as President Abdelaziz BouteflikaÂ in the western town of Tlemcen, is wanted along with eight others, includingÂ his wife and two sons, for “corruption, abuse of authority and belonging to anÂ international criminal network,” the public prosecutor saidÂ on Monday.
A former head of the Organisation for Petroleum Exporting Countries hadÂ variously been presented as a “super minister,” a “regime strongman” or evenÂ an “ultra liberal” before taking centre stage for his alleged role in theÂ corruption scandals around state energy firm Sonatrach that hit the headlinesÂ on January 2010.
OnÂ February 10, the public prosecutor in Algiers opened the “Sonatrach II”Â case, ordering an probe into possible corruption linked to contracts betweenÂ the Italian ENI group and Sonatrach, in which Khelil was implicated.
Born in Oujda in Morocco in 1939, Khelil left for the United States in theÂ 1960s where he earned a doctorate for petroleum engineering at the UniversityÂ of Texas, and eventually US citizenship.
In addition to Arabic and French, he also speaks English, Spanish andÂ Portuguese, and has worked for Shell and Phillips Petroleum in the US beforeÂ returning to Algeria where he became technical adviser to the presidency ofÂ Houari Boumediene from 1973 to 1976.
Khelil joined the World Bank in 1980 but returned to Algiers in NovemberÂ 1999 to work as adviser to Bouteflika, who a month later named him minister ofÂ energy and mines.
During his decade as minister, Khelil pushed through new legislation,Â including a controversial law in March 2005 concerning production sharingÂ between Sonatrach and its foreign partners.
Previously the production sharing system granted 51 percent of any oilÂ deposits discovered to Sonatrach, and put the remaining 49 percent up forÂ negotiation with foreign companies.
Khelil’s 2005 law restored the concessions system that existed beforeÂ Algeria’s oil industry was nationalised, and stipulated that a foreign companyÂ would retain 100 percent ownership of new deposits it found.
The law also liberalised production, transport, refining and distribution,Â allowing foreign companies to import fuel refined outside Algeria for re-saleÂ in the country.
As a result Sonatrach found itself on an equal footing with foreignÂ petrochemical companies.
But Khelil’s law was frozen for a year before being amended in 2006, andÂ the government went back to the previous production sharing system, with newÂ terms disadvantageous to Sonatrach, Algerian experts said.
In an editorialÂ on Tuesday, the French-language daily Liberte asked howÂ Khelil “managed to pass a law selling off hydrocarbons, and have it validatedÂ by a council of ministers, and even worse, by MPs”.
The corruption scandal erupted in January 2010 and tainted Khelil’sÂ reputation, forcing him to resign.
But when a new probe was launched in February, he packed up and left forÂ the United States — apparently a wise choice since the US does not have anÂ extradition treaty with Algeria.
“It is true that he has American nationality, but for us, he is anÂ Algerian. It is enough for him to leave the United States and everything willÂ depend on the country he goes to,” Prosecutor Belkacem Zeghmati said inÂ comments related by the press.
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