AUGUST 29 2007 21:13h

Britain Orders Algeria Tycoon Extradited To France


British judge ordered the extradition to France of an Algerian businessman wanted in connection with a $1 billion money-laundering.

A British judge ordered the extradition to France of an Algerian businessman wanted in connection with a $1 billion money-laundering and corruption case, a British court official said on Wednesday.

Abdelmoumene Khalifa, 40, has already been convicted in absentia in Algeria, where a court case against more than 100 defendants, including government officials, began in January. He was sentenced to life in prison.

One of Algeria's most high-profile businessmen with interests in banking, airlines, construction and television, Khalifa was arrested in March in Britain, where he has lived since 2003.

He was wanted in connection with what Algerian authorities have described as the country's largest financial scandal involving the embezzlement of more than $1 billion through a range of Khalifa-linked companies.

France sought Khalifa's extradition because several French-based companies also suffered substantial losses as a result of the alleged embezzlement.

An official at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London said that judge Anthony Evans had ruled there was nothing to prevent Khalifa's extradition. The full extradition order will be delivered in court on Thursday, the official said.

"The decision has been made, but the extradition order will only be read out in court in front of Khalifa on Thursday," the court official said.

Khalifa has denied the charges against him. His lawyers had argued he should not be extradited to France because the offences did not occur in France and he was not officially accused of anything under French law.

The judge determined that the criminal prosecution process had begun in France and some of the alleged criminal conduct was committed there.

The Khalifa Group included a bank, an airline, two television channels and several companies operating in sectors such as car rental, construction, graphic design and catering. It including companies with French operations. The group employed an estimated 20,000 people.

The Algerian authorities took the decision to liquidate the group after three of its employees were arrested trying to board a Paris-bound jet with suitcases stuffed with 2 million euros ($2.6 million) in 2003.