- Tunisia orders investigation into £5bn fortune of Ben Ali (Telegraph):
Members of ‘The Family’ exerted total dominance of the Tunisian economy, owning banks, commercial enterprises, factories, tourist resorts and vast land holdings.
By conservative estimates Mr Ben Ali’s immediate family had a £5 billion fortune, while brothers and sisters of his hated wife Leila Trabelsis accumulated even greater wealth.
The official TAP news agency said a judge had accepted a petition by prosecutors to investigate bank accounts, real estate and other assets.
The hasty departure of 30 or more Ben Ali and Trabelsis family members has brought the Tunisian economy to its knees – 43 banks, 66 shops and 11 industrial plants have been destroyed since Mr Ben Ali fled.
Thirty-three members of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s family have been arrested on suspicion of “crimes against Tunisia”, local television reported tonight, showing images of seized gold and jewellery.
“Investigations will be carried out in order for them to face justice,” said a statement read out on state television, citing an “official source”. The statement apologised for not giving more details about the deposed president’s family members, but showed gold and jewellery it said had been found in their possession.
The arrests came as Tunisia’s interim president, Foued Mebazaa, promised “a complete break with the past” in an attempt to calm fears that the revolution was being hijacked by the presence in his caretaker government of members of Ben Ali’s party.
Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has promised “total press freedom” and has abolished the Ministry of Information. Mr Zahar insisted there could be no retreat as “people simply will not accept the old ways returning, they want the right to be informed.” The first thing which will go from the magazine will be messages from President and Mrs Ben Ali in every issue. “We shall do something dramatic, we shall have news instead,” he said.
But freedom of expression brings problems for journalists in Tunisia. Hamene Zhoiss, 30, a reporter on Réalités, said: “Most of us had not been taught in our journalism courses how to ask critical questions. In my course we were openly told that we could not write the facts in many cases. So, this is a challenge for us, our readers do not trust us, we have to now produce work to get that trust.”
La Presse writer, Mouldi Mbarek, was regarded as a propagandist for the regime. “Yes we’ve made mistakes but it was not easy,” he said. “This was not a free country and we were victims as well as being complicit. All I ask now is that we should stay united.”
Switzerland’s federal council today agreed to freeze any assets of Tunisia’s ousted president and the incumbent leader of Ivory Coast.
The Swiss president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, told reporters the measures would take effect immediately and target Tunisia’s former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and the Ivorian incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo.