General Saïd Chengriha, the Algerian army chief of staff, disliked by the troops as a whole and questioned by his counterparts in the military command, has been in the hot seat for some time now

Algeria: war and scandals at the top

photo_camera PHOTO/AP - Said Chengriha oversees Algerian Army military manoeuvres in Tindouf

Like a bull in a china shop, the 77-year-old Algerian army general Saïd Chengriha has been crushing everything in his path since he took over as head of the Algerian Armed Forces General Staff on 23 December 2019 from corps general Ahmed Gaïd Salah, who died on the same date. 

Confusing the General Staff and the General Secretariat of the Ministry of National Defence (MDN), Saïd Chengriha announced his tendency a few days after his appointment to his new post. He summoned to a working meeting all the heads of departments of the Army General Staff and the directors and heads of the central services of the NMD. The latter are not under his authority. They are under the authority of the Secretary General of the Ministry, who deputises for the Minister of National Defence and who is none other than the President of the Republic. 

For having dared to timidly challenge this challenge to his prerogatives, Major General Abdelhamid Ghris, former secretary general of the MDN, was sent to the Blida military prison like many of his colleagues. 

Under pressure from some central directors and Abdelhamid Ghris himself, before his imprisonment, President Tebboune signed a presidential decree setting out the prerogatives of the secretary general of the MDN.

General officers tortured and humiliated

Saïd Chengriha remains unperturbed and pretends to impose himself as the sole head of the army. It is he who makes and unmakes the careers of the members of the military institution's command. He fires whomever he wants and appoints to high positions whomever he pleases. Those dismissed from office are often sent to prison via the "Antar", the torture barracks in Benaknoun, on the heights of Algiers. The rule is that every general sent to prison must suffer the worst humiliations in the Antar barracks to break him morally. They put him in a stinking straitjacket, full of blood and urine from having been worn by other victims and never cleaned or washed. The victim must forget that he was a general and military commander. He must be prepared, before he enters the penitentiary door, to accept his conditions of detention marked by intimidation and physical abuse. Many generals have been languishing in Blida military prison for more than two years without trial for lack of real charges against them. 

This is the case of Major General Othmane Tratag, alias Bachir, who succeeded General Tewfik as head of the security services in September 2015, under Bouteflika's presidency. Initially sentenced to 15 years in prison for an imaginary plot against the army command and state security, he was released a year later along with his co-defendants, Generals Tewfik and Nezzar (on the run in Spain) and Saïd Bouteflika, the younger brother of the late President of the Republic.

A tumultuous past linked to hashish trafficking

With the omnipotent Saïd Chengriha at its head, the Algerian army has gone through, and continues to go through, unprecedented turbulence and instability that has ended up angering the entire military institution. Today, there is not a single general who does not want the chief of staff removed. He represents a real threat both to the men and to the institution considered to be the backbone of the regime. It is therefore the regime itself that is in danger. "There is danger in the house," the few senior officers who manage to get close to the President of the Republic keep shouting at Tebboune. 

Cut off from the workings of the military institution by his powerful boss, President Tebboune only has contact with dissenting voices through his trusted and highly influential adviser, Boualem Boualem, who has his connections in the army, having directed the wiretapping centre for several years. This adviser, whom Chengriha does not like, is the transmission belt between Tebboune and the military chiefs in discord and is the one who is directing the manoeuvre to blow up the chief of staff. 

Thus, the corridors of the presidential palace in El-Mouradia and those of the Ministry of National Defence in the Tagarins are the scene of the most sordid intrigues between the different clans. 

They do not hesitate to use every stratagem to unseat Saïd Chengriha, who is now on the defensive. Among other actions taken against him is the presentation of his file from the time when he was head of the 3rd military region of Bechar. This file concerns drug trafficking with smugglers on the Algerian-Moroccan border. Reading this dossier reveals a very important part of the secret of Chengriha's longevity at the head of a military region from 2004 to 2018. In other words, 14 years. No less than 14 years. A world record to be entered in the Guinness Book of Records. And it is not the only record to the credit of the current head of the Algerian army. He held the rank of major-general from 2003 to 2020, 17 years. 

If Chengriha did not contest his posting to Bechar, which many other officers in his place regard as a punishment, it is because he found his account, according to sources close to him. It is also the same explanation given for his undeterred acceptance of his blockade to the rank of Major General. He made a fortune in hashish trafficking by having all the trafficking networks on the Algerian-Moroccan border in his hands. 

Obviously, the release of the Chengriha dossier by General Abdelaziz Chouiter earned him his post as director general of military security, his time in the Antar barracks and a very special welcome in the military prison. 

He also appeared before the examining magistrate of the Blida military court and was remanded in custody. 

Military command under wiretap

As the former head of the wiretapping services, Boualem Boualem cannot wipe the slate clean of a professional past that now gives him direct access to the ear of the President of the Republic. He therefore asked the CEO of Mobilis, a subsidiary of Algeria Telecom and the leading mobile phone operator, to communicate the telephone numbers of military commanders close to Chengriha to a wiretapping unit that he controls. As Mobilis is a state-owned company, all Algerian officials use its phone lines. 

As everyone is watching everyone else, things get out and the head of Mobilis has been in trouble for a few days now. 

Commander of the National Gendarmerie, Mobilis CEO Chaouki Boukhazani is a graduate of the École Militaire Polytechnique d'Alger, the former Algerian National School of Engineers and Technicians (ENITA). He holds a Postgraduate Specialisation (PGS) in Telecommunications and Computer Network Security and started in 2011 in the Gendarmerie as a Web Developer. 

He worked his way up the ranks within the digitisation team of the National Gendarmerie to become in 2016 the project leader of "Tariki DZ", a website/application that allows road users to obtain real-time road situation information. 

Subsequently, Chaouki Boukhazani was appointed to manage the National Gendarmerie's IT and control networks until July 2019. Close to Boualem Boualem, he joined Mobilis' telecommunications team in October 2019 before being propelled to the management of the country's first mobile phone operator. 

Arrested and handcuffed by members of the army's Central Security Directorate in front of his company's headquarters and his company's staff, Chaouki Boukhazani is imprisoned in Douéra where the DCSA premises are located to be heard before being released by intervention of the El-Mouradia palace. 

His godfather Boualem Boualem is meanwhile in the Glycines unit of the General Directorate of National Security after suffering a stroke. Affected by the ban on leaving the national territory (ISTN), like many high-ranking Algerian officials, he has not been able to benefit from a transfer abroad for treatment. 

The coming days will undoubtedly reveal new intrigues and manoeuvres by the antagonists of a muted but costly war in Algeria, stalled since Tebboune's arrival at the helm of the country. Not a single economic development project has seen the light of day despite an enviable financial bonanza that has only served to double the military budget from $9 billion to $18 billion.