Tunisian FM accused in ‘Sheraton-gate’ scandal



BOUAZZA BEN BOUAZZA | AP

Published — Tuesday 8 January 2013

Last update 8 January 2013 1:17 am

| نسخة PDF Print News | A A

TUNIS: Tunisia’s foreign minister has been accused by a blogger of misusing public funds in a growing national scandal involving issues of government transparency and press freedom.
Olfa Riahi, who calls herself an investigative journalist, is now banned from leaving Tunisia and is under investigation by the attorney general after posting receipts alleging that Foreign Minister Rafik Abdessalam stayed several nights in the Tunis Sheraton Hotel using public money.
Abdessalam denies the allegations in what’s been dubbed the “Sheraton-gate” scandal. He is the son-in-law of a founder of Tunisia’s Islamist ruling party.
In a statement, the minister has decried both hidden and visible groups behind “these systematic attacks which seek to personally discredit me as well as the government I belong to” and said he had hired a team of legal experts in defamation.
Criticizing government figures was once unthinkable in Tunisia until a revolution two years ago overthrew the long ruling dictator, sparking a wave of uprisings across the region known as the Arab Spring.
Riahi has been defended by one of the top officials of a secular party in the governing coalition, which is led by the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party.
Mohammed Abbou, the secretary general of the Conference for the Republic, publicly backed Rihai and voiced his support for “freedom of the press and investigative journalism,” reviving speculation over splits with its coalition partner.
The receipts from the Sheraton posted by Riahi on Dec. 26 allege Abdessalam spent six nights at public expense, including one accompanied by an unidentified woman, raising suspicions of adultery. The minister has denied any wrongdoing and described the woman as his cousin.
Riahi followed up these allegations on Dec. 29 with documents showing that the Chinese government transferred a million dollars directly into a Foreign Ministry account rather than going via the Finance Ministry or public treasury as is the custom.
The ministry has said the money was reimbursement for a conference on Tunisia-Chinese relations.
The state news agency reported Jan. 3 that the attorney general had opened an investigation over the credibility of the information she had published.
Riahi risks a two-year prison sentence if convicted of maligning a public official with false information. In an interview with the daily La Presse, however, she expressed confidence in her legal position. “I am not exposed to any danger,” she said. “I presented only hints and strong suspicions, not direct accusations.”
A group of lawyers has also threatened to file suit against the foreign minister over the misuse of public funds.
In a statement Jan. 2, the Tunisian Association for Financial Transparency said the minister needed to repay the cost of the hotel nights, calling on the government “to do its work in a state of transparency and open an investigation.”

What's happening around Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: The Ministry of Education has suspended all parallel education programs, except in medical and engineering specialties, as well as bridging programs for health diploma certificates.Education Minister Azzam Al-Dhakil gave directions to the rec...
RIYADH: The Cooperative Health Insurance Council said it had suspended operations of six medical insurance companies for violating health insurance regulations by issuing insurance policies without completing the required documentation and violating...
JEDDAH: A local survey found that almost half of Saudis abide by rules and laws in public places outside the Kingdom more than they do inside the country.More than one-third of the respondent sample said they violate road traffic signs and directions...
DAMMAM: A 50 percent decline in the prices of some types of fish in the Dammam Central Market was noted compared to the previous month.Fish sellers attributed this decline to an increased fish supply and fall in demand from hotels and consumers durin...
RIYADH: In a two-day operation, police arrested 343 beggars including women and children during the holy month of Ramadan.A police officer said the raid was carried out in the Salehiya district and 220 of those arrested were women from Ethiopia. “Mos...
RIYADH: Hotels in the capital have made special arrangements by setting up Ramadan tents, where diners can visit to begin and break their fast with special suhoor and iftar meals during the ongoing fasting month.As the Ramadan tent is a popular pheno...
JEDDAH: Kaddadin, or unlicensed transporters, say there is good money to be made during Ramadan especially in transporting Umrah pilgrims from Jeddah to Makkah and back.During this month the number of visitors doubles or triples which means the price...
RIYADH: The holy month of Ramadan is lively at night following Taraweeh prayers. Nights are turned into days during the month in the industrial area where there is a large concentration of automobile workshops.The industrial areas are well illuminate...
RIYADH: The Saudi man behind the green project that ensured 3,400 trees in Khurais in the Eastern Province for a government firm has been approached by a Kuwaiti oil company for a similar project. “After learning about the project in the Eastern Prov...
RIYADH: A total of 1,300 Gambian pilgrims will come to the Kingdom to perform Haj this year, Ambassador Omar Gibril Sallah said on Thursday.“We hope that the pilgrims will observe the fifth pillar of Islam in peace and harmony and may Allah accept th...
RIYADH: The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH) and the Disabled Children’s Association (DCA) have launched a traffic safety campaign, to reduce the number of accidents that cause disability.Prince Sultan bin Salman, the SCTNH...
JEDDAH: The holy month of Ramadan is a period when non-Muslim expatriates too abstain from eating, drinking or smoking during the daytime out of respect for Muslims who fast from dawn to dusk and also because it is healthy. The expatriates are also...
A policeman was killed in an anti-terror operation on Friday in the western city of Taif, according to the interior ministry. An exchange of fire resulted in the death of the policeman after a raid to arrest a wanted person, state news agency SPA quo...
RIYADH: Customs authorities at Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz International Airport in Madinah have foiled an attempt to smuggle 52,850 Xanax capsules into the country.The drug, an anti-depressant, banned in the Kingdom, was found hidden under the clo...
RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman has ordered that two men face trial for allegedly insulting the late King Abdullah.Quoting reliable sources, a local online publication said that King Salman has also barred Mohsin Al-Awaji and Ab...

Stay Connected

Facebook