ALGIERS, Algeria, Jul 13 – An Algerian court on Wednesday threw out a bid by billionaire Issad Rebrab to buy an influential media group, effectively barring him from taking control of a newspaper critical of the president.
The ruling by an administrative court comes nearly a month after the same tribunal froze Rebrab’s 40 million euro bid ($45 million) to purchase the El Khabar group.
The sale had been agreed in April between El Khabar and Ness-Prod, a subsidiary of Rebrab’s Cevital conglomerate.
But after the deal was struck the government went to court to stop Rebrab from acquiring El Khabar, which includes Algeria’s flagship daily also called El Khabar (The News) and a TV channel.
The government argued that an article in the law prevents a single legal entity owning more than one Algerian daily newspaper. Rebrab already owns the French-language daily Liberte.
The media group had strongly opposed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika standing for a fourth term as president during 2014 elections, supporting his rival, former prime minister Ali Benflis.
Judge Mohamed Dahmane ruled the media group, founded in 1990 by a group of journalists as Algeria was emerging from a one-party political system, should be restored to its “initial” ownership.
The government’s lawyer, Nadjim Bitam, welcomed the ruling.
“I am very satisified with the court’s decision,” he told AFP.
Last month’s decision to block the sale of the media group, which also includes a printing press and a distribution firm, caused an outcry from Algeria’s independent press and political opposition.
Dozens of journalists and El Khabar employees gathered outside the court in the Algiers suburb of Birmandreis in June, chanting “El Khabar won’t die”, despite a heavy police presence.
El Khabar chief Cherif Rezki condemned what he called Algeria’s “trend towards authoritarianism” and intolerance.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the court’s ruling was “extremely worrying”.
Forbes magazine lists Rebrab as Algeria’s richest man and the ninth-richest in Africa in 2015.
He founded Algeria’s biggest privately held conglomerate, Cevital, which employs 12,000 people and is active in electronics, steel, and food and has recently acquired businesses in France and Italy.
Forbes says the Algerian industrialist also owns one of the largest sugar refineries in the world, producing around 1.5 million tonnes a year.