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French Version

Algerian businessman wants trial in UK, not back home

ALGIERS: A London-based Algerian businessman who has been on trial in absentia in his North African country on fraud charges said in remarks published Thursday he was ready to face trial in Britain.

Abdelmoumen Khalifa, owner of Khalifa Group, also said in a rare interview with an Algerian newspaper he would agree to be questioned in the Britain by Algerian judges.

Khalifa is one of 104 defendants, including former government officials, in the mass trial that opened on January 8. "Khalifa's case is a state case because the group had influence in all the institutions of the state," Khalifa told the Arabic-language weekly Al-Mohakik. "All the state's bodies and institutions had links with it [Khalifa Group] through commercial and financial transactions."

Khalifa denied graft charges raised against him in the trial over a case seen as Algeria's worst financial scandal. The trial in Algeria is expected to last several months. "I'm not an outlawed man. I'm ready to go on trial in Britain where there is an independent judiciary ... I'm ready to talk with Algerian judges if they want to come and hear me here in Britain," he said.

He said French investigators had questioned him in London in February 2006 but did not convict him over wrongdoing at his airline Khalifa Airways. The Khalifa Group included a bank, an airline, two television channels and several firms operating in sectors such as car rental, construction, graphic design and catering. The group employed an estimated 20,000 people.

Billions of dinars had been placed in the Khalifa Bank by public and private enterprises and by thousands of private citizens attracted by generous savings rates. Authorities estimate more than $1 billion was lost through what they alleged was embezzlement by several Khalifa officials. The authorities took the decision to liquidate the group after three of its employees were arrested trying to board a Paris-bound jet with suitcases stuffed with $2.6 million in 2003.

The director of the Khalifa Bank died last year at a hospital in Algiers where he went for treatment after being detained for months. Algeria and Britain signed an extradition agreement in 2006. Algiers is seeking the deportation of Khalifa, 40, who has lived in Britain since 2003.

"I will not be extradited because the British judiciary is not convinced with the file that has been given to it," Khalifa said.

Marseille,01 26 2007
The Daily Star
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