Algerians thankful for Abdelmoumen Khalifa's extradition
By Fidet Mansour for Magharebia in Algiers – 30/06/09
After a two-year political and legal wrangle, a British court in Westminster granted a request by Algerian authorities to extradite former "golden boy" Abdelmoumen Khalifa to that country to face justice. Khalifa was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in 2007 by a court in Blida, east of Algiers, for criminal conspiracy, aggravated theft, embezzlement, and forgery.
The long-awaited verdict, which was passed on Thursday (June 25th), drew numerous reactions from officials, civil society activists and the people.
The first to react was Algerian Minister of Justice Tayeb Belaiz, who praised the British judicial system, adding that it was known for its "complete transparency" and independence. Belaiz called the decision a "victory for Algerian courts, which have always demanded that Abdelmoumen be handed over".
"Algerian courts have given assurances to their British counterparts that the former owner of the Khalifa group will be given a completely transparent retrial," he added. "Khalifa will get a fair trial."
Mustapha Farouk Ksentini, president of the National Consultative Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, welcomed the verdict. The extradition bears witness to "the credibility of the Algerian courts", he noted. "The accused could never have been handed over if the British had any doubts as to whether he would get a fair trial."
Several Algerian lawyers previously involved with the Khalifa case also reacted to the news.
In an interview with daily newspaper El Watan, Miloud Brahimi explained that the verdict passed by the Blida Court in 2007 would be quashed if Khalifa were extradited. "The Algerian judge has been asked to reconsider the whole case in all its aspects", he commented. "The principle of the presumption of innocence is enshrined in the Algerian constitution."
In 2007, Brahimi was the defence lawyer for Rahal Reda, CEO of ENAGEO, which lost 10 million dollars to the Khalifa Bank.
Mohamed Khaled Bourayou, one of the defence lawyers for those charged along Khalifa, told El Watan, "The fact that the British courts were satisfied that Khalifa's extradition would by no means contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a very strong endorsement".
Another Khalifa defence lawyer Mokrane Ait Larbi believes that the Westminster court's verdict is "not final" and that it still needs to be confirmed by the House of Lords (High Court) in London.
The man responsible for the biggest financial fraud ever witnessed by Algeria has 14 days during which to appeal. His solicitor has already set the wheels in motion.
The Algerian public also reacted to the ruling.
Ines had just been hired by Khalifa Airways to work as a flight attendant on the Frankfurt-Algiers route when the scandal first erupted. She told Magharebia that her life was turned completely upside-down. "I feel so angry with those responsible," she said.
Forty-year-old Karim was an employee of Khalifa Bank. He was out of work for three years before finding a job as a financier with a public corporation: "This experience affected me a lot. I chose to go into the public sector because I thought I would have a more secure future there."
Abdelmoumen Khalifa founded Khalifa Bank, his financial empire, in 1998. The group, which also established Khalifa Airways, had 20,000 employees. In 2002, after detecting irregularities, authorities barred the bank from engaging in international trade. Khalifa Bank declared bankruptcy in 2003. In March 2007, a number of its managers were imprisoned by the Blida Court.
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