Are Ben Ali's Business Cronies About to Return to Power in Tunisia? Are Ben Ali's Business Cronies About to Return to Power in Tunisia?
Are Ben Ali’s Business Cronies About to Return to Power in Tunisia?


Are Ben Ali’s Business Cronies About to Return to Power in Tunisia?

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali with his wife Leila

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali with his wife Leila

Earlier this month the Tunisian government sparked controversy with the announcement of the draft National Reconciliation Act.

If passed, the proposed bill could mean the cancellation of all provisions related to financial corruption and misappropriation of public money mentioned in the Law number 53 of the Transitional Justice act.

The bill would allow for an end to all prosecutions, lawsuits and sanctions against public officials suspected of financial corruption.

Any person accused of embezzlement of public funds or taking part in financial corruption could have their trial and any punishment cancelled under the controversial scheme.

Meanwhile the law also includes the possibility of granting a pardon to those convicted of financial irregularities as long as they agree to return any pilfered funds or property.

Those in favor of the draft law believe it will help the balance the country’s struggling economy by promoting investment and ending sanctions against the country’s most powerful business chiefs.

In order to benefit from this procedure all parties must declare individual gains and income and pay 5% of their value in fines.

UPL party spokesperson Mohsen Hassen, believes that letting the Ben Ali regime’s most powerful businessmen off the hook is a necessary step to save Tunisia’s ailing economy

“The new law would promote investment as many businessmen are currently trapped by fiscal and financial problems which stops them from playing a major role in investing here and creating jobs.

“The Reconciliation law isn’t to be equated with the state’s abandonment of justice as it means that the suspected businessmen would return money stolen from others and pay fines for their past deeds, he added.

However, not everybody feels positively about the law, which is seen by critics as a get out of jail card for regime figures previously involved in corruption and embezzlement during the Ben Ali era.

Former Confiscation commission Judge Ahmed Saoub believes that the proposed law would directly conflict with the Transitional Justice process.

“Legally speaking , the law is arbitrary as there is no consultation on a national level.

“It is against the work of both Confiscation Commission and Truth and dignity Commission.” he told Tunisia Live.

Judge Saoub resigned from his position following the announcement that the draft would be put before Ministers.

“The new government is trying to protect dozens of corrupt businessmen and politicians who used to have strong ties with the old regime.

“The very businessmen who were agents of corruption will be back in power as this law is giving them immunity from justice.

The expropriation of old regime’s properties and money won’t be effective and ultimately there is no point in having a confiscation commission.” he added.

A World Bank research paper released in June showed that companies owned by relatives and close allies of former dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali defrauded the state of $1 billion to $2.6 billion over a seven-year period.

The Confiscation Commission was established as part of Tunisia’s transitional justice system following the 2011 Tunisian revolution as a vehicle to transport the country from an authoritarian regime to a democratic system based on the truth ,accountability and reparation.

If the reconciliation law is passed some believe it will once again provide an open door for the most powerful Ben Ali regime business figures to once again carry out corrupt and damage modern day Tunisia.

Tunisian economic expert Abjalil El Bedwi, believes that the proposed law would once again put the country’s most corrupt figures back in power.

“This law is a huge fallacy for Tunisian people. It allows corrupt businessmen who had taken advantage from their close ties with old regime and who gathered their wealth based on theft and corruption to return to power.” he said.

“Supporters of the law are detached from Tunisian political and judicial reality.

“I don’t think it is efficient to seize the financial or property assets of those involved because it will need either a separate local committee or international specialized companies, both of which will cost high expenses,” he added.

Worryingly, Mr. El Badwi believes that the introduction of the law would mean yet another deadly blow to the country’s democratic transition and to the ideals of the revolution overall.

“I believe if suspected corrupt businessmen are sent to court then it is better than seizing cash and assets because the latter procedure is open to bribery and corruption.

“Without accountability, we won’t learn lesson from the past.

“This law would be a blow to the transitional justice and to the 2011 Tunisian revolution.” he added.

Zeineb Marzouk is a journalist at Tunisia Live newsroom. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in English language at the university of Human and social science of Tunis (FSHST). Zeineb speaks Arabic, English, French, and Italian.