The French government suspects that former Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family may have fled the country with 1.5 tons of gold, French daily Le Monde reported Monday.
According to the French secret service, Leila Trabelsi, the wife of the ex-president, went to the Central Bank of Tunisia to fetch the gold bars, the paper reported.
The governor of the bank is reported to have refused to give them to her, so Trabelsi rang her husband who first also refused to help, before giving in, according to Le Monde.
“It seems that the wife of Ben Ali left with some gold, 1.5 tons or 45 million euros worth,” a French politician told the paper.
But a central bank official denied receiving verbal or written orders for gold withdrawals, adding that the country’s gold reserves “have not moved,” Le Monde said.
An official from the Elysée told Le Monde that “this information comes directly from Tunisia, in particular the Central Bank. It seems to be pretty much confirmed.”
Trabelsi took a flight to Dubai, before heading to Jeddah. It is still unclear how Ben Ali left Tunisia.
According to Italian sources, reports suggest the former president’s airplane was in Maltese airspace without the authority to land.
There is also speculation that Ben Ali may have left Tunisia by helicopter to Malta and then taken his plane from there.
The French government believes the Libyan secret service may have helped Ben Ali flee in order to avoid violence, Le Monde reported.
Published: Monday, 17 Jan 2011 | 9:51 AM ET
Source: CNBC News