Rumors continue to circulate around Slim Riahi, businessman and founder of Tunisia’s Free Patriotic Union Party (Union Patriotique Libre, or UPL). The 39-year-old was unknown before the January 14th revolution. Now he is recognized as the man behind the UPL.
It has also been revealed that he invested over 140 million dinars in a variety of projects, such as the construction of a 20-hectare farm and dairy plant in Sidi Bouzid. The young businessman also has plans in the works to engage in the Tunisian media industry by buying 20% of Dar Assabah.
Riahi’s parents were exiled during Tunisia’s Bourguiba period, and Slim grew up in Libya, where he made a fortune in the investment and oil industries, in cooperation with U.S. and U.K. firms. Many have alleged that he is close friends with Seif al-Islam, Qadhafi’s son, but Riahi has denied these allegations.
Riahi returned to Tunisia after the January revolution, and he first gained name recognition in February of 2011. During the crisis in Libya, he chartered four Boeing airplanes to save Tunisians trapped in Libya, and he participated in negotiations for their repatriation.
Due to his cooperation with the U.K. and the U.S. in the oil sector and in intelligence operations, some have accused Riahi of being the “secret weapon” of Great Britain and America, particularly during Tunisia’s upcoming elections. Moreover, the extensive media campaign for the UPL that he is currently financing has also met criticism and raised claims that he is “buying votes.”
Riahi has denied these claims, and asserted that his money is used for charity and development projects, particularly among the youth. He asserts that the UPL is “…a Tunisian model built on the idea that a minority alone cannot possess the majority of wealth and power.”