Tunisian efforts falter to recover billions stolen by regime

Tunisian efforts falter to recover billions stolen by regime
2 min read
28 January, 2015
Feature: Optimism is fading for the return of up to $15bn smuggled abroad by Ben Ali regime, despite the creation of a task force to hunt down the cash.
A protest outside the presidential palace in Tunis [AFP]

In 2012, the Tunisian government set up a judicial task force to hunt down the estimated $15bn misappropriated and smuggled abroad by the Ben Ali regime. But despite initial optimism, the task has proved difficult to the point where much of the money remains missing.

The governor of the Central Bank of Tunisia, Chedly Ayari, described the total amount of funds recovered as "meagre and discouraging", saying that nothing had been recovered in 2014 due to complications with foreign states and the inexperience of the Tunisian authorities in such cases.

He said the ministry of justice had sent out 81 judicial requests for information, but had received replies only from Lebanon, France and Switzerland.

Nevertheless, Amari said there was "some slow progress" and that the initiative would continue.

Riyad Belqadi, the attorney-general at the Tunisian criminal affairs office, stated that such cases required significant internal political support and assistance from diplomatic missions abroad.

Yemen faces similar battle to recover stolen billions. Read more.

Fadil al-Saihi, a lawyer and former consultant to the ministry of justice, said the interim Tunisian troika government - which took over after Ben Ali's fall - was supported by the G8 group and Qatar to chase the money.

However, immediately after the formation of a new government in 2013, all international efforts ceased save for the appointment of a French judge to assist the recovery.

"It is true we recovered deeds from Lebanon that were worth about $28m from what seems to be an abandoned bank account held by Laila al-Taraboulsi, wife of the former Tunisian president. We also retrieved a yacht from Spain and another from Italy," said Saihi.

"There is potential for the recovery of more... especially as Switzerland had announced its willingness to return $80m. Sadly, it looks like this cooperation suddenly stopped. Even pressure by civil society started to fade despite the great importance of this cause."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.