Two prominent members of former President, Ben Ali’s circle have applied to enter into arbitration with Tunisia’s Truth and Dignity Commission.
Belhassen and Imed Trabelsi, the brother and nephew of the ex-President’s wife, Leila, have applied to the Truth and Dignity Commission’s arbitration process, spearheaded by Ben Ali son in law, Slim Chiboub earlier this month.
Under the arbitration process, all charges are dropped against anyone accused of past corruption while an agreement is reached between all parties thought to be involved.
In a television interview on Sunday, government Minister responsible for the process, Hatem Eleuchi, confirmed that Belhassen Trabelsi had applied to enter into arbitration from his current address in Canada, while Imed Trabelsi had written to the commission from the prison at Mornaguia, where he is being held on numerous charges, including drug consumption, corruption and writing fraudulent checks. In 2015, he was sentenced to a further five years for running illegal business courses in Carthage.
In an interview with the Assabah newspaper on Sunday, Imed Trabelsi’s lawyer confirmed that his client was prepared to meet with all 42 victims of his crimes and apologize to the country by television address if required.
Imed Trabelsi’s Uncle, Belhassen Trabelsi fled Tunisia in 2011 to Canada and was sentenced in absentia to five years and two months for illegal currency exports, as well as removing significant quantities of precious metals from the country without authorization.
Trabelsi subsequently launched numerous legal bids to avoid returning to Tunisia. However, in January of this year, the Canadian Ambassador to Tunisia confirmed that Trabelsi had exhausted all legal options available to him to avoid his return. No indication has been given if this was a factor in his decision to enter into arbitration.
Following an investigation by the Tunisian Press Agency and others in October, Trabelsi was linked to an extensive network of accounts and holdings in Swiss banks. However, while the total amount of money gained or removed from the country fraudulently remains unknown, it is estimated to run to the millions.
Commenting upon the willingness of some of the principle figures of the old regime to enter into arbitration, Achref Aouadi, founder and chair of the anti-corruption organization I-Watch, told Tunisia Live that, ”within the framework of the transitional justice law and the launching of the Truth and Dignity Commission’s work, the legal possibility to reconciliation is open to all of Ben Ali ‘s cronies.
“The case of Slim Chiboub, who initiated the process of arbitration and reconciliation with the IVD, (the French abbreviation for the Truth and Dignity Commission) sent out encouraging signals to others, as they could see that Chiboub was not subjected to either humiliation or legal harassment.”
Turning to the role of the arbitration process and the government’s wider approach to dealing with members of the former regime, Aouadi said, “The degree of forgiveness extended via these legal tools will largely be decided by the Tunisian people, as there are some crimes that can be reconciled while others cannot.”
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.