Drug charges against Ben Ali 'irrational'
Tunis - Accusations that ousted Tunisian president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali possessed and planned to sell marijuana are "irrational", his lawyer said on Friday as the exiled leader faces another trial on drug trafficking charges during his rule.
Ben Ali, who has already been sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison for misappropriating public funds, has been charged in a separate case with drug possession and trafficking, as well as weapons possession.
His lawyer Hosni Beji told AFP on Friday that the second trial, which is set to open on Monday, must be pushed back so that he can make contact with his client, who has been living in exile with his wife in Saudi Arabia since fleeing Tunisia on July 14.
The Lebanese Beji also said the pending charges were "irrational".
"How can we imagine that a president holding power can have 2kg of cannabis resin of mediocre quality (with intentions) of selling it," Beji said.
Ben Ali's drug and weapons trial was initially set to open on Friday but was pushed back following a Tunisian judges' strike.
"I will ask for an adjournment to a date that will allow me to have contact with my client and his family and prepare with him" a solid defence, Beji said.
The lawyer added that he has a list of witnesses that should be able to prove Ben Ali "never owned or kept drugs".
Regarding the weapons charges, Benji said most of the weapons found at Ben Ali's palace in the Carthage neighbourhood north of Tunis were personal gifts from high-ranking international officials.
Both the Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef Ben Abdel Aziz gave Ben Ali weapons, according to Beji.
While delaying the start of the trial would be ideal, Beji said he is ready to present his defence if the court refuses to grant a delay.
"If a deal (on a delay) is reached, I will go to Saudi Arabia and will examine the case with (Ben Ali)," he added.
Ben Ali's wife Leila Trabelsi was also convicted last week on the corruption charges.
Money and jewlery were found at their palace outside Tunis, searched by police after a popular uprising forced the two to flee.
Their sentence was criticised by rights groups and commentators, partly because the conviction was handed down after only six hours' deliberation.
Some critics have also said Tunisia's interim government, in hastily trying to punish the former leader who was in power for 23 years, has focused on lesser offences.
Prosecutions should focus on human rights violations committed by the former regime against the Tunisian people, the International Federation of Human Rights and the Tunisian League of Human Rights said in a statement last week.
Ben Ali himself denounced his June 20 conviction as a "parody of justice" and "political liquidation", in a statement issued through his Paris-based lawyer Jean-Yves Le Borgne.
The ex-strongman and his entourage face possible legal proceedings in no less 182 other cases.
They also face trial on charges of torture, money laundering and trafficking of archaeological artefacts.