Court sentences journalist to prison… for denouncing tax evaders

Condor, Abdou Semmar and a justice for sale

An Algerian court has sentenced an investigative journalist to prison for uncovering a tax evasion scheme that cost the Algerian state millions of dollars, if not billions.

Investigative journalist Abdou Semmar discovered a number of Algerian companies blatantly dodging tax. According to the journalist, who provided evidence of these serious crimes, these companies would send someone on weekends, to illegally access the tax authorities IT system and alter the data related to how much these companies owed in corporation tax. For a number of companies, the journalist found out that they weren’t paying any tax.

Rather than investigate and adequately prosecute the tax evaders who caused a large prejudice to the tax authorities, and more importantly to the Algerian taxpayer, a court in Algiers has sentenced the journalist this week to one year in prison. 

The judge who sentenced Abdou Semmar is no other than Fayçal Belkessam, the brother of  Farida Belkessam, a state TV presenter who happens to be the wife of one of the members of the Benhamadi family, Moussa Benhamadi, a politician thought to have used his position of power to develop an electronics company, Condor, recently the subject of one of Abdou Semmar’s investigations. According to the investigation, Condor is scamming customers in Algeria and some other African countries, by falsely advertising their smartphones as “made in Algeria” when in fact they are made in China, imported, than labelled as “Condor”. Condor doesn’t manufacture anything, other than the packaging according to the same investigation. 

Belkessam Farida

Abdou Semmar had also made allegations of corruption, since this same woman, a TV presenter, was made a legal notary by the Judiciary following a controversial annual contest, a contest in which almost all the winners were figures close to the regime.

Algeria doesn’t have much of a consumer rights legislation, anyone can just claim about anything. The practice of ‘white-labelling’ is very common in China, hundreds of brands across the world do the same thing, marketing and branding smartphones (or other products, e.g. blank t-shirts), rather than manufacturing. Similarly, the cars advertised as ‘Made in Algeria’ by SOVAC, Volkswagen’s representatives, are only put together in Algeria and then labelled as “Made in DZ”. 

When justice becomes a family affair

In recent weeks, since the rise of Gaid Salah as the military’s chief, a large purge has been initiated, however observers have estimated that these arrests are largely a matter of settling personal scores. Especially when considering that close allies of Gaid Salah, such as Amar Saadani, now hiding in France with his son and daughters, have not been bothered by the judiciary.

A week ago, former police chief Abdelghani Hamel was summoned to Tipasa’s court by Ghali Belkecir’s wife, she happens to preside the court. According to the journalist, this is yet another personal family matter turned judicial. Ghali Belkecir, the Gendarmerie’s chief, sought to have his son marry Mustapha Bouteflika’s daughter, until Hamel advised against it in a report submitted to the Bouteflika family, who then called off the engagement. Ghali Belkecir could never put this behind him, and started waging a personal war against Abdelghani Hamel.