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Tunisia Prosecutes Former Businessmen, Ministers on Corruption Charges

Tunisia Prosecutes Former Businessmen, Ministers on Corruption Charges

Tuesday, 10 March, 2020 - 08:15
Demonstrators hold flares during a demonstration against a bill that would protect those accused of corruption from prosecution on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in Tunis, Tunisia. (Reuters file photo)

Tunis’ Court of First Instance opened a corruption case involving 17 former ministers and businessmen, most of whom are relatives of ousted President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Judicial investigation focused on a number of senior political and security officials with ties to the former regime. Figures include former prime minister Mohammed Ghannouchi, former economic adviser to the presidency Mongi Safra, former presidential security chief Ali al-Soryati, former Minister of Religious Affairs Bechir Tekkari, former director-general of Tunisian Diwan Slimane Ourak and Minister of State Property and Real Estate Affairs Ridha Grira.

Most of the lawyers asked for a postponement to take more time to consider the charges and prepare their defense.

Observers believe the lawyers are seeking to delay the sessions in an attempt to gain time until the enactment of a legislative amnesty that includes them. They also cited Speaker Rachid Ghannouchi’s call for “comprehensive national reconciliation” between the symbols of the former regime and leftist leaders.

However, the charges of seizing public funds and exploiting influence seem strong against a number of the defendants, which makes them under penalty of an Administrative Reconciliation Act that allows for settlement but doesn’t close the cases without the recovery of the stolen funds.

In July 2015, former President Beji Caid Essebsi announced a national reconciliation initiative based on approving measures for violations related to financial corruption and looting of public funds.

However, the initiative resulted in administrative reconciliation in 2017 without addressing human rights and political violations.

In 2017, parliament ratified the Administrative Reconciliation Act, which directly benefits hundreds of businessmen affiliated with Ben Ali. The act offers amnesty for officials involved in financial corruption and looting of public funds.

Leaders of opposition parties, namely the Democratic Current party, led by Minister of Public Service Mohamed Abbou, believe this law “acquits those accused of corruption” and “normalizes” fraud.

In last year’s elections, the Democratic Current advocated the fight against corruption and eventually won 22 seats in parliament, a record for the party.

Former Prime Minister, Youssef Chahed, launched in 2017 a campaign against several officials accused of corruption and a number of Tunisian businessmen were imprisoned.

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