Former Tunisian president sentenced in absentia to 35 years in prison

10:12, June 21, 2011      

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Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (R) and his wife Leila Trabelsi, cast their votes at a polling station during the presidential and parliamentary elections, in Carthage in this October 24, 1999 file photo. A Tunisian court sentenced former president Ben Ali in absentia on June 20, 2011 to 35 years in jail. (Xinhua/Reuters File Photo)

Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi were sentenced in absentia to 35 years each in prison, Tunisian television said Monday evening.

The conviction was made by a court in Tunis, which also ruled to fine the couple 91 million dinars (about 66 million U.S. dollars).

The trial, which started Monday, examined the charges of theft, corruption and drug smuggling against the couple. Other charges included money laundering, possession of arms and archeological artifacts.

After hearing the charges, Ben Ali's five court-appointed lawyers asked for a postponement of the trial, arguing that they needed more time to prepare for the defense.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 amid popular protests against his 23-year rule.

Akram Azouri, the president's Lebanese lawyer, said in a statement Monday that Ben Ali denied the charges that he had issued orders to shoot protestors. He also denied having fled the country, saying he was tricked into leaving for Saudi Arabia by his former security chief Ali Seriaty.

Ben Ali also faces 182 charges in a military court, including voluntary manslaughter that may lead to death penalty under the Tunisian laws.

Both his Lebanese and French lawyers were not authorized to defend him, because under the Tunisian jurisdiction, foreign lawyers are not entitled to defend an indicted Tunisian national in absentia.

Following the sentence, Tunisian judicial authorities will send another extradition request against the former president to the Saudi authorities, a spokesman of the ministry of justice said.
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