Tunisia arrests 14 officials in phosphate corruption probe

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Tunisia has taken 14 officials into custody on suspicion of corruption in the phosphate industry, Mohsen Dali, a judiciary spokesman, said on Thursday.

The suspects included a former junior minister, a mines director and procurement director at the Industry Ministry and six managers, Dali said.

Earlier in the week, a Tunisian judge on Monday banned 12 officials, including a former minister and lawmaker, from travelling, due to suspicion of corruption in the mining and transportation of phosphates, according to a judicial official.

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Tunisia’s state-run mining company Gafsa Phosphates last week transported phosphate by train for the first time in a year after it ceased shipments due to protests that closed the railway. It was an important boost for the country’s vital industry.

Tunisia was once one of the world’s largest producers of phosphate minerals, which are used to make fertilizers. But its market share fell after the 2011 uprising against then-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali.

Since then, protests and strikes have steadily cut into production and caused billions of dollars in losses.

Tunisia produced about 8.2 million tonnes of phosphate in 2010. Output dropped to 3.1 million tonnes last year.

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