190402 Bouteflika
Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Image Credit: Reuters

Abu Dhabi: An Algerian court on Wednesday convicted a businesswoman claiming to be the “hidden daughter” of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to 12 years in prison, according to news agency APS.

The Cheraga Court in the western suburbs of capital Algiers also imposed a fine of 600 million dinars (Dh17 million) and another of the same value as compensation to the public treasury with the confiscation of her property.

Businesswoman Nisnash Zulekha, known in the media as “Madame Maya”, was tried along with her two daughters and other officials on charges of money laundering, exploiting influence, granting undue privileges, squandering public money and inciting public agents to grant undue privileges and illegally transferring hard currency abroad.

The court also jailed her two daughters for five years each and fined them three million dinars with the confiscation of their properties.

Two former ministers, Mohamed Ghazi and Abdelghani Zaalan, as well as the former Director General of National Security Abdelghani Hamel, were also sentenced to 10 years in prison in another corruption case in which close associates of Bouteflika were involved.

Madame Maya became famous and gained influence in the business community and opened the doors of senior state officials for her, thanks to a rumour published by people close to Bouteflika, claiming that she is the illegitimate daughter of the president who was toppled by an unprecedented protest movement in April 2019.

During the trial that took place last week, Madame Maya spoke of a “very close” relationship that had bound her deceased father with Bouteflika before he became president in 1999.

She admitted that the facilities she obtained for implementing investment projects were made with the intervention of former President Bouteflika, which allowed her to amass a huge fortune, according to local media.

Madame Maya’s problems began in July 2019, three months after Bouteflika’s resignation, when the security services confiscated huge sums of money in her state residence, west of the capital, where ministers and senior officials live.

Investigators seized more than one million euros in Algerian dinars and foreign currencies and 17 kilograms of jewellery.

As soon as Bouteflika’s rule ended, all those close to him became the target of trials in corruption cases, including his brother and advisor Saeed, two prime ministers, ministers and businessmen who benefited from their proximity to the presidency to obtain undue privileges.