Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s former tyrant, goes on trial on June 20, 2011, on charges of abusing state funds and drug trafficking as reported by Wall Street Journal on June 20.

Over his 23 years in power, Mr. Ben Ali—who is being tried in absentia—and his relatives amassed a fortune in banks, telecommunications firms, real-estate companies and other businesses, giving them control over as much as one-third of Tunisia’s $44 billion economy, according to anticorruption group Transparency International.

The Ben Ali clan—known as “The Family” here—squeezed out some business rivals by exerting political pressure to win lucrative state contracts.

At the time he was deposed in January, Mr. Ben Ali was having a $250 million Airbus long-haul aircraft fitted out in France as an official state plane with lavish interiors, according to Tunisian government officials.

Tunisia’s former president is the first deposed leader to face trial in the wake of the Arab uprisings, but others are likely to follow. Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is due to stand trial in August on charges of murder and corruption.

The evidence that will be brought against Mr. Ben Ali during the trial includes stashes of cash, weapons and narcotics found at two of his mansions in Tunisia, according to officials at Tunisia’s justice ministry. In addition to abuse of state funds and drug trafficking, the former president will also face charges of illegal arms possession and illegal possession of precious artifacts, the officials said.

Mr. Ben Ali’s trial will be presided over by judges from Tunis’s criminal courts and could take several months. Mr. Ben Ali, who remains in Saudi Arabia, won’t be present for the trial.

Tunisia’s Justice Ministry says it has sought Mr. Ben Ali’s extradition but hasn’t yet received a response.

Officials from the Justice Ministry said Mr. Ben Ali will also face a future military trial for high treason, torture and murder, which can carry the death penalty in Tunisia, for having ordered police to shoot on protesters during the country’s recent uprisings. No date has been set for the military-court proceedings, and charges haven’t formally been brought.

Mr. Ben Ali is also the target of a probe in France. Last week, Paris prosecutors said they had launched an investigation into alleged money laundering by the former president and would examine whether Mr. Ben Ali owned assets in France acquired with state funds.

Administrators who are freezing assets of more than 100 Ben Ali family members say they are uncovering an economic network so vast that untangling it too quickly could disrupt Tunisia further.

Tunisia’s new interim Prime Minister Béji Caïd Essebsi said:

No crime will be left unpunished. But Tunisians must be patient.

In addition to Mr. Ben Ali’s coming trial, Tunisia’s interim government is now sifting through corruption accusations filed by Tunisians against Mr. Ben Ali and his relatives.


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