Conflict & Justice

Tunisia's Ben Ali says he was "tricked" into leaving country


A man with a poster on his shirt reading "Wanted for Dictature" and showing deposed Tunisian president Zine el Abidine ben Ali attends on June 20, 2011 the opening of the trial of Ben Ali and his wife Leila in Tunis. Ben Ali, the first leader toppled in a wave of Arab uprisings, who is tried in his absence, is charged with plundering the country among other charges.



Was Tunisia's former autocratic leader ousted because of a wave of popular anger that swept across the North African state in January? Or did a conniving pilot dupe Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali after the ex-president dropped off his family in Saudi Arabia?

The former strongman president of 23 years is now claiming the latter.

Ben Ali said on Tuesday that he was "tricked" into staying in Saudi Arabia on January 14, according to a statement his Beirut-based lawyer provided to the Associated Press.

The AP reports:

A statement released by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's Lebanese attorney says the ousted leader boarded a plane to Saudi Arabia after he was advised by his security chief of an assassination plot against him.

He says he planned to return on the same flight after dropping off his family but the plane's pilot disobeyed orders and took off without him.

News of the alleged plot to leave Ben Ali stranded in Saudi Arabia comes one day after a Tunisian court sentenced the former president in absentia to 35 years in jail on charges of corruption and misuse of public funds. Leila Trabelsi, Ben Ali's wife, was given the same sentence, also in absentia.

They were fined a total of $66 million after their trial.  Tunisia's former president has denied all wrongdoing. 

Ben Ali, who is reportedly still living in Saudi Arabia with his wife, will be tried separately at a later date for additional crimes, including for allegedly ordering his security services to shoot and kill protesters during Tunisia's uprising.

The Saudi government has so far refused to extradite Ben Ali back to Tunisia.

And although Ben Ali was despised by many, not everyone in Tunisia is happy with Monday's verdict.  Some Tunisians have dismissed the speedy trial, according to a Capetown-based African news website. reports:

The court's quick verdict on Monday after only six hours of deliberation on the first day of the landmark trial was dismissed as a "charade" by some Tunisians and as a "joke" by a lawyer for Ben Ali.

"It is a big disappointment, the kind of charade of summary justice that the dictatorship had accustomed us to," said Mouhieddine Cherbib of a France-based Tunisian rights group on Tuesday.