New Ben Ali trial in Tunisia

2011-07-28 20:02

Tunis - Tunisia's exiled former leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and two allies went on trial in absentia Thursday on corruption and property fraud charges, the latest in a series of cases against the ex-president.

Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia last January after a popular revolt against his 23-year rule, has already been sentenced in his absence to a total of more than 50 years in two separate trials.

On Thursday, the court was tackling two separate cases.

One involves the fraudulent acquisition of a plot of land in an upscale Tunis district by Ben Ali's son-in-law, Sakhr Al-Materi, and his wife Nesrine following the "personal intervention" of the former president.

In the second case, Ben Ali and al-Materi, who took refuge in Qatar, are accused of having acquired a plot in the same neighbourhood initially intended to be a park but subsequently reclassified as building land, considerably boosting its value.

"It's a loss for the state and public property. We demand the heaviest sentence," said a representative for the prosecution. "These crimes are very serious, considering the post which the main defendant, Ben Ali, held."

Abused power

According to the indictment, the plots were acquired for €11.5m², well below their real value of €176 and then resold for €759m².

"The evidence shows that the ex-president committed violations and abuses of power in the two transactions," the prosecution said.

On July 4, a Tunis court sentenced Ben Ali to 15 and a half years in jail for possession of arms, drugs and archaeological artefacts - and fined him €54 000.

And in June, Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi were sentenced to 35 years in prison and fined €45 million for misappropriating public funds after police found large sums of cash and jewellery in their palace.

Ben Ali denounced his first conviction as a "parody of justice" and a "political liquidation" in a statement issued last month.

But he and his entourage face possible legal proceedings in around 180 other cases.