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France: Prosecutors ask for extradition of ousted Tunisian President’s brother in law

Belhassen Trabelsi, former President Zein El-Abidine Ben Ali’s brother in law [Twitter]
Belhassen Trabelsi, former President Zein El-Abidine Ben Ali’s brother in law [Twitter]

The Public Prosecution of the Court of Appeal in Aix-en-Provence, France, asked judges today to issue an opinion in favour of the extradition of Belhassen Trabelsi, the brother-in-law of ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Trabelsi was convicted in absentia by a court in Tunisia on charges of abuse of power and money laundering.

The court session was postponed to 18 July at the last minute after court officials realised that the Tunisian state requesting the extradition was not invited to attend the deliberations.

The brother of former Tunisian first lady Leila Trabelsi was in court and said that he feared that he would be subjected to “ill-treatment and even torture” if extradited to Tunisia. “For me the matter is clear, extradition means death,” he told the court. “I will not be luckier than my brothers.” He explained that three of his brothers died in prison between 2011 and 2020, in “appalling conditions”.

Trabelsi, 57, was arrested in France in March last year and charged with “laundering money within an organised crime group, using illegal means to achieve personal gains and complicity in false administrative documents.” An investigation is still underway.

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The elder brother of Ben Ali’s second wife has been accused by the Tunisians of making a fortune by abusing the country’s economic resources, through establishing close relations with powerful personalities until the collapse of the regime in 2011. He fled from Tunisia for Canada during the 2011 popular revolution but left in 2016 after the authorities in Ottawa refused to grant him asylum.

After his arrest in France, Tunisia requested his extradition to serve three prison terms for a total of 33 years. After referring to the “legal trust” between France and Tunisia, Attorney General Serge Bukovis asked the court to issue an opinion in favour of his extradition. “As with every verdict that has been already issued, the Tunisian state confirms that Trabelsi can and should be retried on the facts for which he was sentenced in absentia.”

Trabelsi’s lawyer, Marcel Ceccaldi, condemned what he considered to be “judicial harassment” against the Trabelsi family. “There are serious reasons to fear that he will be subjected to ill-treatment.” Belhassen Trabelsi himself claimed that, “My only crime is that I am a member of Ben Ali’s family.”

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