Tunisia could lose millions of dollars stashed in Switzerland by the family of the fired dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, a senior official said on Saturday.
The funds are currently being frozen by Swiss authorities, but a deadline for recovering funds ends at midnight on Tuesday and restrictions will then end, a presidential official told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on condition of anonymity.
Swiss authorities imposed a 10-year freeze on Ben Ali and his clan’s assets in the middle of a corruption investigation on January 19, 2011, five days after the overthrown leader fled to Saudi Arabia, where he later died.
The Swiss-based campaign group Public Eye, which investigates Swiss companies’ human rights violations, estimates Ben Ali’s family and allies moved about $ 320 million to Swiss banks in the years before his dismissal.
Leila Trabelsi, Ben Ali’s widow, and her rich business brother, Belhassen Trabelsi, are among 30 to 50 of his relatives and co-workers who “can get their money’s worth”, the source said.
“We have daily contact with the Swiss authorities, but despite their understanding, it will be difficult to achieve anything” within the deadline, the source added.
The Swiss have reportedly demanded documents to prove that the funds were indeed illegal before they could return the money to the Tunisian government.
Swiss authorities also want to know the legal status of members of the Ben Ali clan, many of whom faced warrants and trials in Tunisia for corruption, the source said.
Authorities have failed to compile the information due to political instability in Tunisia, which has seen nine governments since 2011, the source added.
The Swiss daily Le Temps said that Swiss officials had offered to set up a joint body to support Tunisia’s efforts to recover the cash.
But former Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, who died in 2019, preferred to try to raise funds through reconciliation agreements with members of the Ben Ali clan.