June 27, 2019

Ex-Tunisian president Ben Ali sentenced to 35 years prison

You believe me don't you? I wanted so badly to come back and face trial but my plane did not wait for me.

A Tunisian court has sentenced ex-Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila to 35 years in prison for theft and other charges.

The only problem for justice is that neither Ben Ali or Leila were in court. They have long fled to a luxury exile in Saudi Arabia.

The couple fled Tunisia after the popular uprising that turfed them out back in January. The interim government in Tunisia has tried them in absentia.

The court also ordered them to pay a $66m fine, which is all a bit symbolic really.

The trial began on Monday on accusations of theft, corruption and drug smuggling, which the former president had denied.

The presiding judge also said that a verdict on other charges – relating to illegal possession of drugs and weapons – would be announced on 30th June.

In a statement issued earlier on Monday, Ben Ali said he had taken his family to Saudi Arabia for safety. Ok so we got that one straight. It wasn’t the uninterupted luxury lifestyle.

He said he had intended to return to Tunisia immediately, but the plane left without him, “disobeying my instructions”. Airlines eh! – typical.

Ben Ali’s lawyers had argued that the trial was an attempt by Tunisia’s interim government to divert attention from their failure to restore stability in the country.

The Saudi authorities have yet to respond to an extradition request from Tunisia for the couple. Nor are they likely to respond. Saudi Arabia is the No.1 destination of choice for third world dictators looking for a safe place to spend some of their ill gotten billions.

If Saudi Arabia start sending despots back from whence they came then the Saudi’s might lose their coveted AAA Despot Destination rating.

Ben Ali is also being investigated on suspicion of murder, abuse of power, trafficking of archaeological artefacts and money laundering.

Speaking through his Beirut-based lawyers (Beirut lawyers! this just gets better) on Sunday, Ben Ali mounted a defence of his 23 years as president. A regime that had a distinctive whiff of corruption and human rights abuses about it.

“He would like everyone to know this criminal prosecution is only a false and shameful image of victor’s justice,” a statement said.

“Is the purpose behind that [trial] to divert the attention of Tunisians from the turmoil that nobody can accuse him of or hold him responsible for?”

“He knows that every new political authority wants to blame its predecessor and hold it responsible for difficulties it fails to resolve.”

The statement also appealed to Tunisians not to forget Ben Ali’s achievements. Like how he earned more money than the rest of them put together.

“He hopes from his heart that Tunisia escapes chaos and darkness and continues on its path towards modernity,” the statement said.

So moving – not bad for a bunch of Lebanese lawyers.