Ousted Tunisian President Denounces Conviction

Posted June 21st, 2011 at 6:15 pm (UTC-5)
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Ousted Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali has denounced his trial and conviction, calling it a “parody of justice.”

In a statement issued Tuesday through his Paris-based lawyer, Mr. Ben Ali said the judge delivered a sentence that was judicially foolish but politically expedient.

On Monday, Mr. Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, were convicted in absentia of embezzlement and other charges after jewels and public funds were found in one of their palaces. They were each sentenced to 35 years in prison. They live in exile in Saudi Arabia.

The judge also ruled the former Tunisian leader and his wife would have to pay fines totaling $65.6 million.

In Washington Tuesday, a State Department spokeswoman said Tunisia took a “big step forward” by holding the trial. Victoria Nuland said the U.S. is pleased to see there was a trial and due process, and that Tunisia is making progress in the rule of law.

On Monday, the judge postponed a verdict on charges related 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. In January, he and his wife went into exile in Saudi Arabia amid mass protests against his 23-year rule.

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.