Tunis risks losing millions of dollars from Ben Ali clan frozen in Switzerland

Tunisia risks losing tens of millions of dollars misappropriated by former President Zine El Abidine Ben Alis clan and blocked in Switzerland due to the expiration of Tuesday at midnight of the freeze of these assets, a Tunisian official said.

โ€œThe Swiss Federal Council announced that the administrative freeze of part of the assets of the Ben Ali clan would end on 19 January at midnight, this was notified to us via diplomatic channels,โ€ the official of the Tunisian presidency who requested anonymity told AFP on Saturday.

On 19 January 2011, five days after the presidents escape from a popular uprising, the Swiss Federal Council ordered the preventative freeze of the assets in Switzerland of Ben Ali and his entourage, a freeze for up to ten years in law.

The former president died at age 83 in 2019 in exile in Saudi Arabia.

According to the Swiss NGO Public Eye, the Ben Ali clan has transferred 320 million dollars (265 million euros) through the financial centre of Geneva during the 2000s.

As a result of the thawing of these assets on Tuesday at midnight: 30 to 50 people from the Ben Ali clan, including his wife Leila Trabelsi and brother Belhassen Trabelsi, โ€œcould recover the moneyโ€, said the Tunisian presidency official.

โ€œWe are in daily contact with the Swiss authorities but, despite their understanding, it will be difficult to do something by Tuesday,โ€ said the source.

In order to allow Tunisia to recover these funds, she added, the Swiss authorities are asking for final judgments. However, legal proceedings are still ongoing.

According to the same source, political instability in Tunisia since the revolution and the succession of nine governments have made it difficult to handle this issue.

โ€œDuring these ten long years, successive governors have had nothing but negligence, conflict of interest and contempt for their own citizens in dealing with this file, which should have been considered paramount, essential and urgentโ€, reacted Saturday several Tunisian NGOs, including Avocats sans Frontiรจres, in a joint statement.

The failure of the state to recover these goods โ€œwill remain an indelible and disgraceful stain that undermines the dignity of all Tunisians, and an incurable injury to the many citizens in distress and despair,โ€ they added.

According to the Swiss daily newspaper Le Temps, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) โ€œgave the new Tunisian authorities the time necessary to establish judicial cooperation with Switzerlandโ€.

โ€œDuring the past year, the Tunisian authorities have been sensitized by the Swiss authorities on several occasions and at various levels as the administrative freeze expired,โ€ said the FDFA at Time.

According to the Swiss daily, former Tunisian president Bรฉji Caรฏd Essebsi (late 2014 to 2019) never concealed his reluctance to hunt down Ben Alis silver makers, preferring to go through amnesties.