Ben Ali allies face court for trying to flee Tunisia
Twenty-three allies of ousted Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali appeared in a Tunis court on Tuesday to face charges of trying to flee the country with illegal foreign currencies during the January uprising that led to Ben Ali's ouster.
AFP - Twenty-three allies of ousted Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi appeared before a Tunis court Tuesday for trying to flee the country last January in illegal possession of foreign currency.
A total of 35 people are facing charges but only the 23 Ben Ali associates arrested in January appeared before the court Tuesday.
The 23 were arrested and found to be in possession of a large sum in foreign currency as they tried to flee the country on [January] 14, the day Ben Ali and his wife fled into exile in Saudi Arabia following a weeks-long popular revolt.
Fourteen men, in handcuffs, and nine women, wearing white full-length robes, entered the tiny courtroom which was packed with journalists and lawyers.
The defendants, including Imed Trabelsi, Leila's nephew and one of the most reviled men from the former ruling clan, have been held at the Aouina military base in Tunis since their arrest.
"You tried to flee the country on January 11 in possession of foreign currency and jewels," court president Faouzi Jbelli said, before reading out the charges against each of the accused.
Imed Trabelsi, wearing a white polo shirt, rejected the charges, denied that he had sought to flee the country and said the money in his possession came from "legal activities".
The prosecution said Imed, who was already sentenced to four years in jail in June for drug posession, had 36 watches and five kilograms of jewellery when he was nabbed at the airport.
Another co-defendant, Moncef Trabelsi, was caught with 2,400 dollars (1,658 euros) and 17,500 euros.
A defense lawyer said the trial might be postponed after the reading of the charges.
Since his escape to Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali has already been twice convicted and sentenced in trials held in his absence.
On July 4, a Tunis court sentenced him 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 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 "political liquidation" in a statement issued last month.
But he and his entourage face possible legal proceedings in around 180 other cases.