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Algeria jails two former prime ministers days before presidential election

Ahmed Ouyahia sentenced to 15 years and Abdelmalek Sellal to 12 in high-profile corruption case
The state prosecutor had sought 20-year prison sentences for Ouyahia, pictured, and Sellal (AFP)

An Algerian court jailed two former prime ministers for corruption on Tuesday, two days before a presidential election that protesters want cancelled. 

Ahmed Ouyahia, who was prime minister four times, received a 15-year jail sentence and Abdelmalek Sellal, who was twice premier, was jailed for 12 years. 

The two men denied all charges, including "misappropriation of public funds, abuse of power and granting undue privileges".

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It was the first time since Algeria's independence from France in 1962 that former prime ministers had been put on trial.

The state prosecutor had sought 20-year prison sentences for the two ex-premiers, the AFP news agency reported.

The court in Algiers also handed 10-year prison terms to two former industry ministers, and sentences ranging from three to seven years to five prominent businessmen.

Tuesday's verdicts are linked to corruption in the car assembly business and "hidden financing" of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's campaign for a fifth five-year term in an election that was scrapped earlier this year.

The nascent Algerian automotive sector got its start in 2014, via partnerships between foreign groups and large Algerian corporations, often owned by businessmen linked to Bouteflika's entourage.

Election seen as unfair

Many former senior officials have been in detention as the army seeks to quell mass protests that began in February demanding the prosecution of people involved in corruption and the removal of the ruling elite.

The sentences marked the second verdict since September, when a military court handed long prison terms to the once untouchable intelligence chief and youngest brother of Bouteflika.

Bouteflika resigned in April under pressure from the protests which began in February. 

Demonstrators say Thursday's election will not be fair because some of the former leader's allies are still in power.

The army has said the vote will be fair and an election is the only way to get out of the crisis.

Transport minister acquitted

Among the businessmen jailed on Tuesday was Ali Haddad, a former chief of Algeria's largest business association, who was imprisoned for seven years. 

Former transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane was the only defendant acquitted.

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All those on trial were allies of Bouteflika and denied the charges. 

Sellal's son, Fares, a shareholder in a car assembly plant, was handed a three-year jail sentence.

The court also issued a 20-year prison sentence in absentia to former industry minister Abdeslam Bouchouareb, who is abroad, the Reuters news agency reported.

An international arrest warrant has been issued by the same court. 

While no opinion polls have been published ahead of Thursday's vote, observers expect high levels of abstention, in keeping with previous elections in a political system seen by voters as rigid and unaccountable.