Tunisia Court Sentences 25 Ben Ali Relatives to Jail


A court sentenced 25 relatives of Tunisia's ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to jail Friday, most of whom were caught trying to flee with cash and jewels at the climax of January's revolution.

In one of several trials of figures from the toppled regime, the court in Tunis also issued fines totaling 200 million dinar (more than 100 million euros) for Ben Ali's family and his wife Leila Trabelsi.

Among those it sentenced to jail terms of four months to six years was Trabelsi, who fled to Saudi Arabia with her husband on January 14 when he quit after 23 years in power amid protests that sparked uprisings across the region.

She was among six people sentenced in absentia in the trial of 32 people over attempts by several of her relatives to illegally flee Tunisia with cash and jewels.

Six more relatives were acquitted as was the former head of presidential security, General Ali Seriati, who had been charged with complicity in the attempted escape and falsification of passports.

Leila Trabelsi was given six years for complicity after claims that she told her relatives to get to the airport and fly out to France, a plan uncovered by police.

A police colonel said this week that he and his men arrested 22 of the group on a bus on the airport tarmac. The pilot of the plane is also said to have refused to allow them on board.

Moez Trabelsi, a nephew of the former first lady, was sentenced in absentia to six years in jail while her two sisters, Jalila and Samira, were sentenced to 18 months and four months respectively, the judge said.

Another nephew Imed Trabelsi, a wealthy businessman and former mayor widely disliked by Tunisians, was given two years on top of four handed down in another trial for possession of drugs.

His mother Najia Jridi was jailed for eight months. One of Leila Trabelsi's brothers, Moncef, was sentenced to 18 months.

Even though the court acquitted Seriati on charges related to the attempted escape, the once much-feared strongman also faces trial on more serious charges of plotting against state security, incitement to criminal acts and provoking disorder.

"It is a glorious day for the Tunisian justice which has shown independence from the government and popular pressure," said Abada Kefi, one of Seriati's lawyers, after Friday's rulings.

There are scores of judicial proceedings under way against Ben Ali, his extended family and ministers. Around 35 charges are to be referred to a military court, according to the justice ministry.

The 74-year-old ex-president has already accumulated 66 years in jail in trials conducted in his absence, with Tunisia's requests for his extradition from Saudi Arabia not met.

His convictions already include corruption, misappropriation of public funds, property fraud, and possession of weapons, drugs and archaeological artifacts.

Ben Ali, whose relatives are accused of using his iron-fisted rule to enrich themselves by involvement in most sectors of the economy, has denied wrongdoing.

On the weapons charge, Ben Ali has said the arms were for the most part gifts from foreign leaders; he has described the discovery of drugs in his office after his departure as a set up.

About 300 people were killed in around four weeks of protests, which erupted in the impoverished countryside in December.