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Ben Ali assets in Switzerland transferred to Tunisia central bank

Former President of Tunisia Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali speaks at the parliament in Tunis, on 12 November 2009 [AFP PHOTO/FETHI BELAID/ Getty]
Former President of Tunisia Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali speaks at the parliament in Tunis, on 12 November 2009 [AFP PHOTO/FETHI BELAID/ Getty]

Switzerland has transferred 3.5 million Tunisian dinars ($1.27 million) of assets associated with former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to the Tunisian central bank, Reuters reported.

The presidency said: "Following efforts aimed at recovering looted funds held abroad, the Tunisian Presidency informs that the Swiss Authorities have transferred 3.5 million TND of former President Ben Ali related assets to the Tunisian Central Bank."

Millions of dollars have been stuck in a bank account in Switzerland since 2011 when Swiss authorities imposed a ten-year freeze on assets belonging to Ben Ali and his family after a corruption probe into the president was launched.

The assets will be unfrozen on Tuesday and restrictions on who can access the money will cease, a presidential official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Observers have warned Ben Ali's family could claw back the millions stored in Switzerland once the deadline expires.

Those set to benefit from the removal of restrictions on the account include Leila Trabelsi, Ben Ali's widow, and her wealthy businessman brother Belhassen Trabelsi, as well as between 30 and 50 further relatives and associates.

Tunisian officials had hoped to claw back the money during the ten-year freeze but have failed to do so.

Swiss authorities have reportedly demanded proof the funds were gathered by Ben Ali illegally before they will return the money to the Tunisian government.

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Officials in the north African state have failed to compile the necessary information in the last ten years.

It was not immediately clear why the 3.5 million dinars has been released.

According to the Swiss newspaper Le Temps, local officials offered to create a joint body to support efforts by the Tunisian government to reclaim the millions before the deadline. However, the offer of help was refused by the late former Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who opted to try to make reconciliation deals with Ben Ali's relatives and associates in order to regain the funds.

On Tuesday Ben Ali's brother-in-law Belhassen Trabelsi was sentenced in absentia to ten years in jail on corruption charges.

Trabelsi and his accomplice Sami Fehri were also fined 40 million dinars ($14.51 million) in the case.

The verdict, which can be appealed, was issued in relation to financial crimes that occurred prior to the 14 January 2011 revolution, when the Tunisian Radio and Television Establishment (ERTT) signed advertising contracts with the private media production company Cactus, owned by Trabelsi and managed by Fehri.

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