In the long process of stolen assets recovery, Tunisia received $28.8 million last Thursday in the first such retrieval of what it calls ‘looted assets’ held abroad by ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his family.
During a ceremony held at the presidential palace in Carthage, United Nations Special Advocate for Stolen Asset Recovery Ali Bin Fetais al-Marri handed to Caretaker President Moncef Marzouki a cheque with an amount of $28.818 million stated news agency TAP. Al-Marri, Qatar's attorney-general, has been appointed by the UN to head efforts to recover money from leaders overthrown in Arab uprisings.
"Fully aware of the importance of the post-Revolutionary commitments, the UN pledged, on the eve of Arab Spring uprisings, to help and support these peoples," said al-Marri who commended the co-operation of the Presidency of the Republic and the Tunisian government since taking office. Al-Marri also pointed to inherited difficulties given the poor traceability of stolen assets saved in fake bank accounts under fake names in different countries.
This recent recovered money was all in the Lebanese bank account belonging to Leila Trabelsi, wife of the ousted president Ben Ali who fled to Saudi Arabia with his family on January 14, 2011 at the end of his 23-year rule.
According to Sami Ramadi, president of the Tunisian Association for Financial Transparency, billions of dollars acquired corruptly by Ben Ali and his entourage remain unaccounted for: the exact amount is not known.
The cheque comes as Tunisia’s economy is still going through difficult times, Tunisia’s Islamist-led government faces popular pressure to recover the remaining money despite legal and political difficulties in gaining access to the accounts where it is believed to be held.
Meanwhile, Tunisia expects to sign a $1.7 billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund by May, according to the country’s Finance Minister Elyes Fakhfakh. The loan is needed to shield Tunisia’s economy from global economic woes, including the debt crisis in Europe.
In an interview with Tunisian radio station Shems FM, Sami Ramadi, considered the recovered money as an incomplete achievement. “Today is an incomplete achievement, just like our revolution,” he said. “The assets we recovered today represent a small percentage of the total amount.” On December 23, 2012, the Ministry of Finance held an auction to sell the confiscated belongings of Ben Ali. The auction included the selling of luxury cars, paintings, jewelry, jet skis, and yachts.
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