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Tunisia: Former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and His Wife Found Guilty

(June 27, 2011) On June 10, 2011, a Tunisian court sentenced former President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife, in absentia, to 35 years in prison. They were found guilty of theft and illegal possession of cash and jewelry. The court also ruled that they must pay a fine equivalent to US$65.6 million.

During the trial, the General Prosecutor of Tunisia demanded that Ben Ali pay at least U$1 billion dollars in compensation for the harm that he caused to the Tunisian people and the country during his rule. The General Prosecutor also accused the former president of withdrawing 16 million Tunisian Dinars (about US$11.7 million) from the general budget without a written justification. He noted that Ben Ali deposited this amount in an account that is not subject to any monetary audit. During the investigation phase of the case, Tunisian authorities discovered a secret account in a Lebanese bank allegedly under Ben Ali's name.

Ben Ali's lawyer, who is based in Lebanon, rejects the court's ruling and repudiates these charges. He said that his client never possessed the sums of money that the courts claimed to have found in the former president's office. He also said that the money that the court mentioned was found three months after Ben Ali left the Republican Palace. The lawyer asserted that the current Tunisian government did not grant him permission to defend his client. Tunisian judicial officials responded to this claim by saying that Tunisian law prohibits a foreign lawyer from defending a client in absentia.

The former president will be tried for other criminal charges in the near future, including murder and plotting against state security. (Ben Ali Gets 35 Years [in Arabic], AL JAZEERA.NET (June 21, 2011).)