Tunisia recovers millions of Ben Ali’s ‘looted assets’

Tunisia received US$28.8 million on 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.

The state news agency TAP said a cheque in that amount had been handed to President Moncef Marzouki by Ali bin Fetais al-Marri, appointed by the United Nations to head efforts to recover money from leaders overthrown in Arab uprisings.

Marri, Qatar’s attorney-general, was named UN Special Advocate for Stolen Asset Recovery in September.

TAP said the money returned to Tunisia had been in a Lebanese bank account belonging to Laila Trabelsi, the wife of Ben Ali, who fled to Saudi Arabia with his family on 14 January 2011 after popular protests ended his 23-year rule.

Local media say billions of dollars acquired corruptly by Ben Ali and his entourage remain unaccounted for, but the exact amount is not known.

Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, grappling with economic woes that include high unemployment, is under popular pressure to recover the money, but faces legal and political difficulties in gaining access to the accounts where it is believed held.

An International Monetary Fund team arrived in Tunis this week to discuss a US$1.78 billon loan requested by the government.

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