TUNIS // Relatives of toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali were arrested trying to flee the country with jewels and cash, a police chief alleged yesterday.
Colonel Samir Tarhouni said 28 members of Ben Ali's family were held as they tried to leave Tunisia as the regime fell.
Ben Ali's presidential security chief had ordered police to allow the group to fly out on January 14, he said as he spoke out about the day the authoritarian ruler quit after 23 years in power, defeated by popular revolt.
But Col Tarhouni said he and his colleagues defied the order from Ali Seriati, now on trial over his role in the attempted escapes.
They arrested 28 relatives of Ben Ali and his controversial wife Leila Trabelsi on the airport tarmac.
"An official at the airport alerted me that members of the family of Leila Trabelsi were going to leave the country in a private plane," said the Anti-Terrorist Brigade officer, who had been called to give a public account of the events.
"I took the initiative to go to the area with 11 of my colleagues, without receiving orders from my superiors.
"Ali Seriati called me twice to free them. I hung up."
The 28 relatives were arrested on a bus driving them to a plane on the tarmac of the airport.