Switzerland to give Ben Ali money to Tunisia

The Jan. 2011 ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (pictured) after a groundswell of demonstrations marked the start of the Arab Spring. (File photo: AFP)

Switzerland said on Friday it will hand over to Tunisia $40 million stashed in Swiss bank accounts by the family of ousted dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Swiss authorities had frozen the funds as part of a probe launched following the revolution that forced the longstanding Tunisian leader from power in 2011.

Speaking on Swiss public radio, chief prosecutor Michael Lauber said the transfer of the funds had been made possible thanks to the cooperation of Tunisia’s new authorities.

Ill-gotten gains

The Swiss launched their investigation after Tunisia filed a request for legal assistance alleging that ill-gotten gains had been hidden in the Alpine country.

The Ben Ali family still has the option of contesting the money’s handover by filing an appeal at the Swiss supreme court.

Ben Ali’s January 2011 ouster after a groundswell of demonstrations marked the start of the Arab Spring.

He has since gained asylum in Saudi Arabia while his son-in-law Sakher el-Materi, once considered a potential successor, has fled to the Seychelles.

A World Bank report last month detailed the family’s grip on the economy during Ben Ali’s 23-year reign.

It found 220 companies owned by family members, accounting for 21 percent of net private sector profits in Tunisia, with regulations often tailored to benefit their businesses.

Continuing investigation

In the wake of Ben Ali’s overthrow, Switzerland blocked the equivalent of $68.5 million (50 million euros) in accounts held in the country.

With $40 million set to be handed over, investigations into the origin of the remaining $28.5 million are continuing.

Lauber said he hoped to be able to transfer those remaining funds in the near future.

“There are still several million dollars frozen in Switzerland. We’re trying to make progress on this issue,” he said, without offering a likely timeframe.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:42 - GMT 06:42