A $100 million loan with generous conditions from Libya to Tunisia has evoked the longstanding controversy over the extradition of former Libyan prime minister Baghdadi Mahmoudi from Tunisia.
The loan was described to Tunisia Live as a “suspicious financial deal” between the governments of the two countries by Aymen Zouaghi, a National Constituent Assembly (NCA) member affiliated with the opposition Al-Aridha party.
The loan was first proposed in May 18, 2012 and finally approved on Tuesday, January 8, by the NCA. Zouaghi asserted a connection between the loan’s announcement and what he alleged were erstwhile negotiations between the two governments over Baghdadi’s extradition.
“Perhaps, people tend to forget quickly, but not I,” he said.
Zouaghi is not the first to allege that the loan was made in exchange for Mahmoudi’s extradition. Bechir Essid, the head of Baghdadi’s defense team, stated in June that “the decision to hand over Baghdadi Mahmoudi was a financial transaction.”
On a live broadcast program in June 26, 2012, former minister of finance Houcine Dimassi was asked by a Hannibal TV presenter whether or not Baghdadi’s extradition was a deal between the two governments. Dimassi replied, “Maybe… that’s politics.”
Souad Abderrahim, a NCA member affiliated with the ruling Ennahdha party, dismissed Zouaghi’s allegations to Tunisia Live, pointing to several previous loans that Tunisia has received with favorable repayment terms.
The long interval between the loan’s proposal in May and its final approval this week is a testament to the procedures that the NCA undertook to vet the loan and ensure that no violations, such as the one mentioned by Zouaghi, are tied to it, argued Abderrahim.
“This accusation isn’t grounded in reality,” she asserted.
Tunisia is in no position to accept loans with high interest due to its struggling economy, said Abdallah Triki, deputy minister of foreign affairs in charge of relations with the Arab World, to state news agency TAP.
The favorable loan from Libya can also be viewed as a token of gratitude, suggested Abderrahim.
“If Libya is to repay our government for something, it is for the continuous humanitarian aid we’ve provided to Libyan citizens and refugees during the [Libyan] revolution,” she said.
The repayment of the loan will happen over 15 years following an initial five-year grace period, and the money contained in it will be directed to priority development projects.
Mahmoudi, who fled to Tunisia during the Libyan revolution, was extradited on June 24, 2012. Tunisian human rights organizations advised Tunisia’s government not to hand over the former Libyan prime minister due to concerns that he would not receive a fair trial in his native country and risk torture while in detention. The extradition took place in spite of these recommendations and President Moncef Marzouki’s disapproval.
Amira Masrour contributed reporting