Ben Ali permits Swiss authorities to return ‘alleged’ hidden assets to Tunisia

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Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila are seen in Rades, outside Tunis, marking the 20th anniversary of Ben Ali’s presidency in this file photo. Tunisia is also seeking the arrest of Ben Ali’s wife, Leila, as well as other family members. Photo – Hassene Dridi/AP

The Tunisian government is welcome to any of its deposed dictator’s assets it can find hidden in Swiss bank, Ben Ali’s Beirut-based lawyer said as he announced his client’s permission to Swiss authorities to transfer alleged assets to his home country.

In response to accusations that his client Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, ruler of Tunisia for 23 years, had hidden money away in Swiss accounts, Akram Azoury said he had authorised the Swiss government on Ben Ali’s behalf to turn over all such funds to the Tunisians.

“You are authorised to transfer any so-called assets or economic resources to the Tunisian state without needing to resort to any judicial or extra-judicial measures and without referring to my client,” Azoury wrote in a letter sent to the Swiss ambassador in Beirut.

Azoury insisted it was a follow-up to his 30 May statement saying his client had no funds in Swiss accounts and he would gladly accompany Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki to Switzerland to repatriate any money he could find under Ben Ali’s name.

Tunisian experts flew to Switzerland last month to meet with Swiss officials and discuss ways on how to handle the frozen assets. The Swiss authorities acknowledged the meeting and promised strengthened cooperation to ‘restore as soon as possible the illicit assets held by the entourage of former president Ben Ali’.

Switzerland said last year it froze Ben Ali’s assets worth 60 million Swiss francs. Tunisian officials insist Ben Ali and his entourage stashed millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts.

The former Tunisian dictator’s lavish spending and luxurious lifestyle angered the country which has been struggling with high unemployment and poverty for decades.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia following the riots that started the Arab Spring in December 2010. Last year, Tunisian authorities tried the former dictator in absentia. He was found guilty and sentenced to over 66 years in prison for embezzling, illegally possessing weapons and narcotics, housing fraud, and abuse of power.

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