Former president of Tunisia, wife convicted of embezzlement in absentia

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Chahida Guizani, one of Ben Ali's lawyer, holds a file outlining in Arabic the charges set against him inside the Tunis Criminal Court which is hearing two embezzlement, money laundering and drug trafficking cases against Zine El Abidine Ben Ali , Tunisia's former autocratic ruler, whose ouster triggered a series of Arab world uprisings. Ben Ali went on trial in absentia since he fled to Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Hassene Dridi)

TUNIS, Tunisia -- Tunisia's former ruler and his wife were convicted in absentia on embezzlement and other charges on Monday after $27 million in jewels and public funds were found in one of his palaces.

They were sentenced to 35 years each in prison and fined tens of millions of dollars.

The conviction of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi followed a daylong trial before the Tunis criminal court.

The couple went into exile on Jan. 14 in Saudi Arabia after a monthlong uprising that sparked a string of other uprisings in the Arab world.

The ex-president and his wife were fined for embezzlement of public funds and misappropriation.

The trove of jewels, some which the court said had "historic value," and the money were found in a palace in the picturesque town of Sidi Bou Said, outside Tunis, following Ben Ali's departure.

Ben Ali, 74, vigorously denied the charges in a statement through his French lawyer, calling the proceedings a "shameful masquerade of the justice of the victorious."

Saudi Arabia did not respond to an extradition request, and some Tunisians expressed frustration that he would not be present for his judgment.

The verdict in a second case stemming from the discovery of weapons and drugs in the official presidential palace in Carthage was postponed.

Public defenders assigned to Ben Ali said they needed time to study the file. The trial was to continue June 30.

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