News Africa

Friday 19 January 2018

Tunisia orders probe into ex-president's €6bn fortune

Damien McElroy in Tunis

TUNISIAN officials promised yesterday to investigate the vast fortune of the former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his relations as Switzerland froze the exiled dictator's assets there.

Members of the family dominated the Tunisian economy, owning banks, businesses, factories, resorts and vast land holdings.

By conservative estimates, Mr Ben Ali's immediate family had a €6bn fortune, while brothers and sisters of his hated wife, Leila Trabelsi, accumulated even more.

The hasty departure of 30 or more family members has brought the Tunisian economy to its knees -- 43 banks, 66 shops and 11 industrial plants have been destroyed by protesters.

And a judge has now accepted a petition by prosecutors to investigate bank accounts, property and other assets belonging to the ex-president and his family.

Demonstrators have dem-anded swift action to seize Mr Ben Ali's assets inside the country as well as cash abroad. But few believe the interim government led by Mr Ben Ali's former acolytes has the stomach for the task.

As the UN put the number killed in the uprising at 100 and Tunisia freed all political prisoners, Michele Calmy-Rey, the Swiss foreign minister, said the assets of known associates of Mr Ben Ali would be frozen for three years.

Tunisia's central bank took over a bank controlled by Sakher El-Materi, one of Mr Ben Ali's sons-in-law, in the first such move against the family's assets.

Since the 74-year-old president sought refuge in Saudi Arabia on Friday, Tunisians have looted the properties of notorious figures, including the president's four wealthy sons-in-law and Mrs Ben Ali's brother.

In a French expose, Mrs Ben-Ali was dubbed the 'Queen of Carthage' for her imperious and greedy behaviour.

Moncef Cheikhrouhou, who was forced to sell his shares in a press group to a relative of the president, said he hoped a commission created by the Justice Ministry would reverse acquisitions resulting from corruption. "They behaved like a Mafia that reaped money from all sectors of the economy," he said.

The French government is under pressure to seize property held by the Tunisian first family including apartments in Paris and villas on the Riviera.

Meanwhile, Foued Mebazaa, Tunisia's interim president, promised a "total break" with the past and hailed the "martyrs of dignity and liberty". (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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