Tunisian ex-ruler Ben Ali gets 35 years' jail
Published 21/06/2011 | 05:00
Tunisia's disgraced former ruler and his wife were convicted in absentia on embezzlement and other charges yesterday after $27m (€18.97m) in jewels and public funds were found in one of his palaces.
They were sentenced to 35 years each in prison.
The conviction of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi followed a day-long trial before the Tunis criminal court. The couple went into exile in Saudi Arabia last January after a month-long uprising that sparked a string of other uprisings in the Arab world.
Ben Ali (74) vigorously denied the charges in a statement through his French lawyer, calling the proceedings a "shameful masquerade of the justice of the victorious".
Saudi Arabia did not respond to an extradition request, and some Tunisians expressed frustration that he would not be present for his judgment.
Ben Ali and his wife were charged after the discovery of a trove of valuable jewels and cash in Tunisian and foreign currency at a palace in a village north of Tunis. Images of the cache shown on TV after the discovery shocked Tunisians.
A second case stems from the seizure of arms and drugs at the official presidential palace in Carthage during a search by a commission investigating abuse of authority, formed after Ben Ali's departure. He faced charges in that case of possessing and trafficking drugs, detention of arms and munitions and failing to declare archaeological works also found at the palace.
Earlier yesterday, Ben Ali claimed that he was tricked into leaving the country six months ago, setting the stage for a revolution, which inspired the "Arab Spring" still rippling across the region.
Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after mass protests against 23 years of rule in which he, his wife and their family built stakes in the country's biggest businesses and accumulated vast fortunes at what Tunisians say was their expense.
Protesters stood outside the courtroom demanding that Ben Ali be brought back.
His trial will be watched closely in Egypt, where former president Hosni Mubarak will stand trial over the killing protesters.