Tunisia’s former president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi have been sentenced to 35 years in prison after being found guilty of embezzlement and the misuse of public funds.
The two were sentenced in absentia in Tunis criminal court on charges of theft and the unlawful possession of $27m in cash and jewels discovered in a palace in Sidi Bou Said, near Tunis. Ben Ali and his wife, who fled Tunisia on 14 January following a popular uprising against the regime were also fined $66m.
A second case concerning only Ben Ali and relate to the possession of drugs and weapons at the a palace in Carthage, was postponed until 30 June to give his lawyers more time to prepare.
Ben Ali also faces later charges of murder, voluntary manslaughter, drug trafficking, abuse of power and trafficking of archaeological artefacts (MEED 14:4:11).
Although Tunis has requested Saudi Arabia to extradite the couple, the kingdom is not expected to do so.
Ben Ali began to mount his defence on 19 June
Speaking from Beirut, Ben Ali’s lawyer Akram Azouri says that the sentence was “a joke”.
“He would like everyone to know this criminal prosecution is only a false and shameful image of victor’s justice…He knows that every new political authority wants to blame its predecessor and hold it responsible for difficulties it fails to resolve,” Azouri says.
Tunisia is currently being run by a temporary government led by interim prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi until presidential and parliamentary elections are held later this year.