Former Sonatrach chief Mohamed Meziane. Image courtesy of The 5th OPEC International Seminar/Youtube.

A corruption trial involving former executives at Algeria’s Sonatrach was adjourned Sunday shortly after it began when witnesses failed to appear.

The trial is set to restart next month at the request of defense attorneys after several witnesses did not show up to the hearing, AFP said.

Defense lawyer Chaib Sadek told Reuters the case was adjourned when defense lawyers withdrew after arguing their clients had no guarantee of a fair trial.

“We have decided to postpone the case until a later session,” Judge Mohamed Reggad said.

A date for the next hearing has not been set yet.

A range of charges have been brought against 19 defendants including inflating the price of contracts with a state company, embezzlement of public funds and money laundering.

Former Sonatrach chief Mohamed Meziane was present at the hearing along with his two sons.

All three men are defendants in the case.

Meziane has denied any wrongdoing and told the El Watan newspaper the charges are part of a plot against him.

Over 40 lawyers and 108 witness are slated to take part in the trial including the company’s current acting chief.

None of the defendants have entered a formal plea.

The case, known as Sonatrach 1, centers around five contracts between Sonatrach and an Algerian unit of Germany’s Funkwerk for monitoring equipment and electronic protection services.

A source close to the case told Algeria’s APS news agency that an Algerian representative for the German company stands accused of securing special treatment during the contract bidding process in exchange for shares in the company.

Italian prosecutors are conducting a separate investigation into the alleged bribery of Sonatrach officials by services player Saipem, a subsidiary of Italy’s Eni.

Italian prosecutors claim that Saipem paid middlemen $207 million to win about $8.4 billion in contracts with Sonatrach.

Eni and Saipem have denied any wrongdoing.

Last year Eni said a forensic audit it conducted into the allegations did not turn up any wrongdoing.

Eni said the audits revealed no evidence “of illegal or corrupt conducts at Eni nor the existence of intermediary contracts between Eni and the third parties under investigation.”

The scandal has marred efforts by the Algerian government to attract more foreign investment to the country’s energy sector.

Algeria, an OPEC member, received only four bids last year for 31 fields put up for auction.



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