LONDON: Tunisia’s presidency said on Wednesday Switzerland had transferred 3.5 million Tunisian dinars ($1.27 million) of assets associated with late former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to the Tunisian central bank.
“Following efforts aimed at recovering looted funds held abroad, the Tunisian Presidency informs that the Swiss Authorities have transferred 3.5 million TND of former President Ben Ali related assets to the Tunisian Central Bank,” the presidency said.
A senior official said on Saturday Tunisia could lose millions of dollars stashed in Switzerland by Ben Ali’s family.
The funds are frozen by Swiss authorities and a deadline to claw back funds ended midnight on Tuesday and restrictions then ceased, a presidential official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Swiss authorities imposed a 10-year freeze on the assets of Ben Ali and his clan amid a corruption probe on Jan. 19, 2011.
Following efforts aimed at recovering looted funds held abroad, the Tunisian Presidency informs that the Swiss Authorities have transferred 3.5 million TND of former President Ben Ali related assets to the Tunisian Central Bank. #TnPR
— Tunisian Presidency - الرئاسة التونسية (@TnPresidency) March 10, 2021
Leila Trabelsi, Ben Ali’s widow, and her wealthy businessman brother, Belhassen Trabelsi, are among 30 to 50 of his relatives and associates who “could get hold of the money,” the source said.
The Swiss have reportedly demanded documents to prove the funds are indeed illegal before they could return the money to Tunisia’s government.
Swiss authorities also want to know the legal status of members of the Ben Ali clan, many of whom faced warrants and trials in Tunisia for corruption, the source said.
The authorities have failed to compile the information due to political instability in Tunisia, which has seen nine governments since 2011, the source added.
Swiss daily Le Temps said Swiss officials had offered to create a joint body to support Tunisian efforts to reclaim the cash.
But former Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in 2019, preferred to try to retrieve funds through reconciliation deals with members of the Ben Ali clan.
On Tuesday, a Tunisian court sentenced Belhassen Trabelsi, Ben Ali’s brother-in-law, to ten years in jail for corruption, the state run news agency TAP reported.
The court also sentenced Sami Fehri, the owner of El Hiwar TV, to eight years in prison in the same case.
The court fined the two men 40 million dinars ($14.51 million) for using state television resources for the benefit of a private company and transferring advertising revenues to their company.
(With Reuters and AFP)