Africa, Corruption, Middle East, Top Stories

Jailed Algerian tycoon hires Trump-connected lobbyist for $10 million

One of Algeria’s richest businessmen has hired a lobbyist close to President Donald Trump for an eye-popping $10 million just weeks after a court sentenced him to 18 years in prison on corruption charges.

Ali Haddad‘s year-long contract with the Sonoran Policy Group calls on the firm to provide “business and personal advisory services” as well as “other services on an agreed-upon basis.” It was signed by Sabrina Ben, a senior adviser to Haddad based in Paris.

Registered on the account are firm founder Robert Stryk and CEO Christian Bourge. Stryk was a West Coast adviser for Donald Trump‘s 2016 campaign whose firm made a fortune in the president’s first term.

Neither Stryk nor Sonoran responded to messages about the nature of their work for Haddad, the founder and CEO of construction firm ETRHB (Road, Hydraulic and Building Works Company in English). Haddad is a former head of the country’s Business Leaders Forum whose company has handled over $2 billion in contracts since it was founded in 1997, according to Forbes.

Haddad’s world came crashing down after the ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned in April 2019 following mass protests against his bid for a fifth term. He stands accused of benefiting from close ties to Bouteflika’s regime, including receiving $16 billion worth of bank loans for projects obtained by “mutual consent” rather than legal tenders.

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Newly elected President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has vowed to put an end to the corruption that flourished under Bouteflika’s 20-year rule. Dozens of government officials and business leaders have been arrested since last year, with two former prime ministers sentenced to prison.

The contract is dated July 26, three weeks after a court in Algiers on July 2 sentenced him and his four brothers to prison and ordered the seizure of family assets. Haddad had already been sentenced to prison in another corruption trial in March. His lawyers have vowed to appeal what they call a political prosecution.

“The defendants were members of the old regime,” lawyer Khaled Bourayou told the AFP wire service in July. “They are paying the price for being defeated.”

William Lawrence, a former State Department diplomat specializing on North Africa who is now a professor at American University’s School of International Service, agreed with that assessment. He said Haddad did indeed thrive under a corrupt system but was ultimately sentenced in a politically charged trial for trying to flee to Tunisia after his patron was toppled.

“I suspect that because the new Algerian regime is relatively weak, and because they’re going to at some point be currying favor with the United States, that Ali Haddad’s goal would be to curry favor with the most powerful Americans so that [his] fate would be included in the conversation with Algeria about what happens next,” Lawrence told Foreign Lobby Report. “If the trials are seen as fair, there isn’t even an issue here. But if the trials are seen as unfair, a cleaning house without cleaning up, then a reassessment of the Haddad case would be part of that process. And I think that’s what they’re hoping for.”

Enter Sonoran, a firm that has made a reputation and sizable profits representing controversial clients over the past three and a half years.

The firm struck gold in May 2017 with a $5.4 million upfront payment from Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry for a contract that was terminated just weeks later after a palace coup. The firm has also been paid at least $2.2 million for work on behalf of Nicolas Maduro‘s government in Venezuela. It is also working on behalf of Africa’s richest woman, Angola’s Isabel dos Santos, for $2.2 million as she faces allegations that she siphoned millions of dollars from the country.