(Adds detention of five officials in same case, comments from army chief)
By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS, June 17 (Reuters) - An Algerian court on Monday ordered the detention of Mourad Eulmi, head of family-owned firm SOVAC that is a partner of Germany’s Volkswagen AG, on suspicion of corruption, state television reported.
The move came as part of a series of anti-graft investigations undertaken since mass protests erupted early this year demanding the removal of the secretive, mostly elderly ruling elite in power since independence from France in 1962.
Eulmi was taken into 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.
A former head of state bank Credit Populaire d’Algerie (CPA)and four officials from the industry ministry were also ordered taken into custody by the same court in connection with the case, state TV said.
In 2016 SOVAC and Volkswagen signed a $170 million 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 ex-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 show up in court in a month’s time for signature.
The army is now the main power broker in Algerian politics, and its chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah on Monday vowed to help prosecute all people suspected of involvement in corruption.
“The fight against corruption admits no limit and no exception will be made to anyone,” state TV quoted him as saying at a military base in the southwestern province of Bechar.
“This will set the milestone for the emancipation of Algeria from corruption and corrupt people before the next elections.”
The Algerian authorities postponed a presidential election planned for July 4 because of a lack of candidates. No new date for the vote has been set.
Protesters are now seeking the departure of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, whom they view as part of the establishment.
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 also been jailed in Algiers pending the completion of corruption inquiries. (Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Hugh Lawson)