Deposed Tunisian Leader, Wife Sentenced to 35 Years

Posted June 20th, 2011 at 4:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Ousted Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his wife have been convicted in absentia of embezzlement and other charges after jewels and public funds were found in one of their palaces. They were sentenced to 35 years each in prison.

The judge also ruled that Mr. Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, would have to pay fines totaling $65.6 million. He postponed a verdict on other charges relating to the illegal possession of drugs and weapons until June 30 to allow Mr. Ben Ali's lawyers more time to prepare their defense.

Monday's ruling capped the first of what are expected to be multiple trials related to Mr. Ben Ali's years in power. The couple went into exile in January amid mass protests against his 23-year rule.

In a statement issued by his lawyers, the former president said Monday he was tricked into leaving his country for Saudi Arabia. Mr. Ben Ali said he had flown there to bring his family to safety and had planned to return to Tunisia immediately, but the plane's crew ignored his instructions to wait and left without him.

Future trials are expected on charges that include conspiring against the state and voluntary manslaughter. In all, there are more than 90 criminal cases pending against Mr. Ben Ali and his allies.

Officials say the former president will be tried in military and civilian courts. He has denied all charges against him.

Saudi officials have not responded to Tunisian requests to extradite Mr. Ben Ali and his wife.

Many Tunisians say they believe the former president and his family improperly amassed large fortunes.

Protesters looted and set fire to dozens of the family's businesses and luxurious villas during the January uprising. The ousted president says he never had the huge sums of money he is alleged to have possessed.