Mohamed Meziane, CEO of Sonatrach, the Algerian state hydrocarbon company, is one of several company officials under judicial investigation. Chakib Khelil, the country’s flambouyant Energy and Mines Minister, told the press in mid January 2010 that Sonatrach Vice-President Abdelhafid Feghouli “has replaced him for the moment.”
It looks like “the moment” is going to stretch a bit. Mr Khelil says he does not know if the investigation into Meziane, and several other senior Sonatrach executives, could have an impact on the firm’s operations. “We should wait a year and then we shall see.”
Sonatrach is the world’s 12th largest petroleum company and the most profitable NOC on the continent. It is the national petroleum champion for Algeria, which supplies about 20% of Europe’s gas needs.
Meziane was appointed in September 2003 to head the firm, which employs 125,000 people. Sonatrach made a profit of $9.2 billion in 2008 for an annual turnover of $80.8 billion, according to its last financial report. The company accounts for 98 percent of the foreign exchange earnings of the North African country.
An examining magistrate ordered Meziane as well as another company vice president and five executives to appear before him concerning allegations of corruption in company tenders for consultancy and security contracts, the El Watan and El Khabar newspapers reported.
Two other Sonatrach vice presidents, the former president of a bank and his son, as well as two children of Meziane and a private businessman have already been detained as part of the probe, El Watan said.
Numerous foreign companies operate in Algeria in partnership with Sonatrach, including TOTAL and GDF (France), Repsol (Spain), Rosneft (Russia), ENI (Italy), BP (Britain), Statoil Hydro (Norway), Anadarko (US) and CNPC (China).
It is rare in Algeria, for officials of Meziane’s ranking to be under probe. The ruling political elite in Algeria is a tight knit group