A Tunis criminal court on June 20, 2011, convicted Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s deposed president, of embezzling state funds, and sentenced him to 35 years in prison, as reported by Wall Street Journal on June 21 the first conviction of a North African ruler since the start of the Arab Spring revolution that has swept the Middle East.

Leila Trabelsi, Mr. Ben Ali’s wife, was convicted on the same count and received an equal sentence, said lawyers the court appointed to represent the couple, who reside in Saudi Arabia and weren’t present.

The former president also was fined 41 million Tunisian dinars ($29.6 million), equivalent to money seized at one of his residences weeks after Mr. Ben Ali left the country in January, and formed the basis of the embezzlement charge. In addition, he was ordered to pay 50 million dinars in damages to the Tunisian people.

The evidence that was brought against Mr. Ben Ali during the trial also included weapons and narcotics found at another of Mr. Ben Ali’s mansions in Tunisia.
Judge Touhami Hafian adjourned the trial on the arms-possession and drug-trafficking charges, which Mr. Ben Ali has denied, to give lawyers more time to read through court documents. A verdict in that case is due on June 30.

Tunisia’s judicial authorities have said they would level more charges against Mr. Ben Ali in coming weeks and months.

The expeditious trial and conviction of Mr. Ben Ali could help Tunisia’s interim government recover some of the assets the former president allegedly owned overseas.

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.

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