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Tunisia tries Ben Ali in absentia

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-07-28

Ousted Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali went on trial in absentia in Tunis, Thursday, on charges of corruption and property fraud. Ben Ali and his allies face possible legal proceedings in up to 180 other cases.

AFP - 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.

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."

According to the indictment, the plots were acquired for 23 dinars (11.5 euros) a square metre, well below their real value of 350 dinars and then resold for 1,500 dinars a square metre

"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 euros.

And in June, Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi were sentenced to 35 years in prison and fined 45 million euros 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.

Date created : 2011-07-28

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