Thursday

22nd Oct 2020

EU set to freeze assets of ousted Tunisian leader

  • The assets held by the family of Mr Ben Ali are estimated to be worth many millions (Photo: Fotolia)

The European Union is currently working on a set of proposals that would see a union-wide freeze on the assets of ousted Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and his family.

Switzerland has already announced plans to freeze the assets of Mr Ben Ali, currently in hiding in Saudi Arabia after his 23-year rule collapsed last week following a month of demonstrations driven by anger over repression and poverty.

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The Tunisian coalition government that has since replaced him is now investigating how the Ben Ali family accumulated its vast wealth, with national television stations on Thursday (20 January) parading a treasure trove of jewelry seized in raids on the homes of 33 arrested family members.

Former colonial ruler and longtime ally France has also taken steps to block suspicious movements of Tunisian money, with EU foreign ministers set to discuss pan-European action when they meet later this month.

"We are working on a package of measures to help Tunisia ... in contact with the Tunisian authorities," Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU high representative Catherine Ashton, told a daily press briefing in Brussels.

"The European Union has means to introduce a freezing of assets held by the Ben Ali family," she added.

After decades of relative silence over the repressive regime of Mr Ben Ali, EU countries have now also expressed a willingness to help Tunisia hold fair and democratic elections and improve its economy.

Expert assistance in drafting electoral law and a possible liberalisation of trade in agricultural goods are among the measures understood to be under EU consideration.

France has been left particularly red-faced by the recent events in Tunisia. As rioting escalated last week, the country's foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, offered to provide the security forces of Mr Ben Ali with French 'savoir faire'.

Three days later the Tunis hardman who terrorised opposition groups and the media was forced to flee to Paris, only to be refused entry as the government of French President Nicolas Sarkozy performed an abrupt diplomatic u-turn.

Southern EU states have long considered the ousted Tunisian leader a bulwark against the spread of radical Islamism, say critical NGOs, singling out Spain and Italy as other culprits behind the EU's 'softly-softly' approach. Cozying up to Tunis was also seen as a way of controlling immigration, the groups argue.

Recent events have shone a spotlight on the EU's policy regarding other repressive regimes in northern Africa, including Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Egypt.

Tunisians have started a Ben Ali 'wall of shame' group on Facebook, with entries including a video clip showing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon applauding Mr Ben Ali for a presidential initiative that declared 2010 the 'international year of youth'.

Youth unemployment is considered a major factor behind the recent unrest.

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