Algeria jails once high-flying financier Rafik Khalifa

Khalifa was being retried after a 2007 conviction in absentia that saw him sentenced to life in prison

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Algerian financier Rafik Khalifa was jailed for 18 years Tuesday for embezzling from his own bank to finance a lavish lifestyle that included a French villa and a private jet.

Khalifa was being retried after a 2007 conviction in absentia that saw him sentenced to life in prison, and the prosecution had been seeking the same penalty.

The court in Blida, southwest of the capital, also ordered Khalifa's assets seized and fined him one million dinars (10,000 euros/$11,200).

The 49-year-old ex-golden boy, courted in his day by Algeria's elite and praised in the press, faced charges that included fraud, theft, corruption and falsification of administrative and banking documents.

The prosecution had sought sentences varying from 18 months to 20 years for 70 co-defendants, but the verdicts in their cases were not immediately known.

In closing remarks this week, prosecutor Mohamed Zerg-Erras claimed that Khalifa had used the 70 branches of his El Khalifa bank to fleece clients attracted by promises of 13 percent interest on time deposits.

“The purpose of this bank was not to invest but to plunder depositors' money and fly away with it aboard (his) Khalifa Airways,” Zerg-Erras charged.

Ali Mezine, the lawyer who presided over the eventual liquidation of El Khalifa Bank, said the money went to sponsoring French football club Olympique de Marseille, buying a 32 million euro ($36 million) villa in Cannes, apartments in Paris and a corporate jet.

The group built around the bank, founded in the 1990s, went bust in 2003 with losses estimated at between $1.5 billion and $5 billion.

When his empire collapsed, Khalifa fled to London to avoid arrest, but was extradited at the end of 2013.

He was convicted in France last year and sentenced to five years in prison for misappropriating millions of euros.

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