Tunisia issues national wanted notice for convicted tv boss Sami Fehri

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Tunisian authorities have issued a national wanted notice for a television chief who disappeared after being sentenced to eight years in jail for misappropriation of funds, the prosecution said Friday.

Sami Fehri, owner of one of Tunisia’s main private television stations, was on trial over the illegal use of state television funds in connection with his production company Cactus Prod, under the regime of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

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His associate at the time, Ben Ali’s brother-in-law Belhassen Trabelsi, was also sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison, judicial official Mohsen Dali told AFP.

Fehri and Trabelsi were prosecuted as accomplices to Ben Ali, who was toppled in Tunisia’s 2011 uprising and died in 2019, for financial damage to the country’s public television.

Police were unable to locate Fehri to take him into custody, and authorities issued a national search notice.

Rumours circulated that he might have fled the country on a private boat, but Dali said that “for the moment, there is no concrete proof that he has fled abroad.”

Fehri had already spent several months in custody in connection to the inquiry in 2013 and also 2019, when authorities banned him from leaving the country.

Ben Ali’s in-laws ran a mafia-like empire that once pocketed a fifth of national private sector profits.

Few have faced justice.

A fabulously wealthy businessman described in a leaked 2008 US diplomatic cable as Ben Ali’s “most notorious family member”, Trabelsi initially fled by yacht to Italy in 2011.

He has been accused of fraud, embezzlement and laundering criminal proceeds.

After three years on the run, he was arrested in March 2019 in the south of France.

In January, a French court rejected Tunisia’s request for his extradition, citing a “real risk of inhumane and degrading treatment.”

Trabelsi had held 51 percent of the shares in Cactus Prod, but authorities seized his stake after the uprising.