People carry signs as Mourad Eulmi, the head of the Algerian family-owned firm SOVAC which runs an assembly plant with Germany's Volkswagen, was questioned in court, in Algiers, Algeria, June 16 2019. The signs read: 'We are in solidarity with our boss'. Picture: REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
People carry signs as Mourad Eulmi, the head of the Algerian family-owned firm SOVAC which runs an assembly plant with Germany's Volkswagen, was questioned in court, in Algiers, Algeria, June 16 2019. The signs read: 'We are in solidarity with our boss'. Picture: REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

Algiers — An Algerian court has ordered the detention of Mourad Eulmi, head of family-owned firm Sovac that is a partner of Germany’s Volkswagen, on suspicion of corruption, state television reported.

The move came as part of a series of antigraft investigations undertaken since mass protests erupted early in 2019 demanding the removal of the secretive, mostly elderly ruling elite in power since independence from France in 1962.

Eulmi was placed in custody on suspicion of “getting illegal privileges and smuggling capital abroad”, state TV said, pending completion of an investigation that will determine whether he is formally charged and put on trial.

In 2016 Sovac and Volkswagen signed a $170m deal for a joint venture, with Sovac holding a majority stake, to assemble vehicles in the town of Relizane under the Volkswagen, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, SEAT and Skoda brands.

VW has not commented on the allegations against its Algerian partner.

Several former senior Algerian officials have been questioned in courts for alleged involvement in corruption since President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down on April 2 under pressure from protesters and the armed forces.

The supreme court last week remanded in custody two former prime ministers, Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, and former trade minister Amara Benyounes for “dissipation of public funds and awarding illegal privileges”.

The same court on Sunday confiscated the passports of former finance and transport ministers Karim Djoudi and Amar Tou and ordered them to appear in court in a month’s time for signature.

Protesters are now seeking the departure of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, whom they view as part of the establishment.

Authorities postponed a presidential election previously planned for July 4 because of a lack of candidates. No new date has been set.

The army is now the main power broker in Algerian politics and its chief of staff, Lt-Gen  Ahmed Gaed Salah, has urged the judiciary to speed up the prosecution of people suspected of involvement in corruption cases.

Bouteflika’s youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs are in custody accused of “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority”.

Other prominent businessmen have been jailed in Algiers pending completion of corruption inquiries.

Reuters