x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Speedy trial in Tunisia sees Ben Ali and wife sentenced to 35 years in jail

Court's quick verdict on embezzlement charges after only six hours of deliberation on the first day of the trial of Tunisia's former president, now in exile in Saudi Arabia, was dismissed as a 'charade' by some Tunisians and a 'joke' by a Ben Ali lawyer.

Judge Touhami Hafi at the Tunis Criminal Court yesterday during for the hearing of the two embezzlement cases of money laundering and drug trafficking, against Zine El Abidine Ben Ali , Tunisia's former ruler. Ben Ali, 74, vigorously denied the charges in a statement through his French lawyer, calling the proceedings a 'shameful masquerade of the justice of the victorious'. Hassene Dridi) / AP Photo
Judge Touhami Hafi at the Tunis Criminal Court yesterday during for the hearing of the two embezzlement cases of money laundering and drug trafficking, against Zine El Abidine Ben Ali , Tunisia's former ruler. Ben Ali, 74, vigorously denied the charges in a statement through his French lawyer, calling the proceedings a 'shameful masquerade of the justice of the victorious'. Hassene Dridi) / AP Photo

TUNIS // Tunisian authorities came under fire yesterday for their high-speed sentencing in absentia of ousted president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali and his wife to 35 years in jail for embezzling public funds.

The court's quick verdict after only six hours of deliberation on the first day of the landmark trial was dismissed as a "charade" by some Tunisians and a "joke" by a Ben Ali lawyer.

Mouhieddine Cherbib, a member of a French-based Tunisian rights group, said: "It is a big disappointment, the kind of charade of summary justice that the dictatorship had accustomed us to.

"We wanted a real trial, a fair one, a trial of the dictatorship with people who were tortured appearing as witnesses, a justice system from which you learn something," Mr Cherbib said, adding that high treason would have been a more appropriate charge.

Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi were charged with embezzlement after the discovery of money and jewellery at their palace on the outskirts of Tunis. The verdict was described by the daily La Presse as "a downpayment of 35 years each".

The ex-president was also fined 50 million dinars (Dh132m) and his wife 41 million dinars (Dh110m).

Judge Touhami Hafi said the sentences, which exceeded the 20 years that had been widely predicted, would take immediate effect, despite the couple living in Saudi Arabia, which has so far ignored Tunisia's demands to extradite Ben Ali.

A second case targeting Ben Ali only, involving weapons and drugs allegedly found in a presidential residence in Carthage, was postponed to June 30 to allow his lawyers more time to prepare.

Ben Ali's lawyer in Beirut denounced the verdict as farcical.

"This is a joke," said the lawyer, Akram Azoury. "You don't retaliate to a joke. You just laugh."

The former president denies any wrongdoing and said in a statement that he had not intended to go into exile while condemning political developments in Tunisia since the end of his 23-year rule.

"I did not abandon my post as president nor did I flee Tunisia, as some media have falsely reported. I was duped into leaving Tunis," read a statement released by Mr Azoury.