Tunisia court convicts members of Ben Ali clan

AP News
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Posted: Aug 12, 2011 4:14 PM
Tunisia court convicts members of Ben Ali clan

A court on Friday handed down prison terms for members and collaborators of the former first lady of Tunisia for trying to illegally flee with jewels and cash as the regime collapsed. But it dismissed charges against the once powerful head of presidential security.

A total of 32 people faced charges _ three in absentia _ connected to the panicked effort to leave Tunisia on Jan. 14, when President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia after a month of protests.

Sisters and nephews of former first lady Leila Trabelsi were convicted. Sisters Jalila and Samira, were sentenced, respectively, to 1.5 years and six months in prison.

Imed Trabelsi, a nephew, was sentenced to two years in prison. He has earlier been sentenced to a four-year term on drug charges.

In all, sentences ranged from four months to six years in prison and fines totaled 200 million dinars ($144.5 million).

They all faced myriad charges linked to illegally attempting to flee, including possession of foreign cash without permission of the Central Bank or trafficking in jewels.

The court dismissed charged of complicity, trafficking in cash and falsification of passports against Ali Seriati, who ran Ben Ali's presidential security but whose role in Ben Ali's flight remains murky. However, Seriati awaits a military trial on far more serious charges, including allegedly plotting against the state.

The defendants were detained at the Tunis airport as they attempted to board a plane as Ben Ali fled after the nationwide demonstrations against his 23-year-long rule.

Ben Ali himself faces more than 100 charges in civil and military cases, some of which could result in a death sentence. He and his wife have already been convicted in absentia on a variety of lesser charges. Saudi Arabia has not granted requests for Ben Ali's extradition, and a Lebanese lawyer for the former Tunisian strongman has maintained his client is being unfairly targeted.

Corruption in Ben Ali's inner circle fueled anger at his regime and eventually led to his flight into exile, an outcome that spurred popular uprisings across the Arab world.

The trial began in early August, was postponed and resumed Wednesday.