Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has sacked the country’s energy minister Khaled Kaddour and four other senior government officials over allegations of corruption.
The dismissals come following a probe launched last November which saw Kaddour – whose portfolio covers the lucrative energy and mining sectors – questioned over “administrative and financial corruption”.
Prime Minister Chahed has now ordered the merger of the energy and industry ministries and launched an official investigation into the accusations.
There was no immediate comment from Kaddour, who is the first senior minister targeted in a crackdown that Chahed launched last year. So far only mid-level officials have lost their jobs.
Dismissed secretary of state for energy, Hachem Hmidi, denied the accusations to Reuters reporters: “My exit from the government helps me to devote myself to the case and prove that I am innocent of these malicious charges.”
Last year, the government confiscated the property and froze bank accounts of about 20 prominent businessmen arrested on suspicion of bribery and fraud, with Chahed vowing to be at “war” with any form of corruption.
In December, the president of Tunisia’s National Anti-Corruption Agency (INLUCC) also unveiled a host of new cases of alleged corruption involving officials at the Ministry of Finance. A cooperation agreement to fight illegalities was subsequently signed, the thirteenth such agreement the agency has initiated with various government departments.
INLUCC also revealed cases of fraud in tobacco distribution channels and the closing of patents without payment of arrears by their owners. These practices affect decisions taken by certain officials in public finance who have allegedly suppressed debts totalling nearly $6 million.
Earlier this year, NGO Transparency International released a report in which it revealed corruption remains “endemic in the Arab states”, after it found 19 of 21 Middle Eastern nations score “below 50” in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2017, which measures the intensity of corruption in the public sector.
Whilst Tunisia was found to have made progress, the report stated that it “witnessed a setback” with a controversial reconciliation law, a legal loophole which “grants amnesty” to public officials who served during Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime.
The INLUCC has also granted protection to figures from 40 corruption cases within the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Resources and Fisheries and Ministry of Higher Education.