Tunisian Fact-Finding Committee head: We will not relent on demanding Ben Ali handover

Just a few days after the Tunisian uprising forced President Zine al-Abdine Ali from power, Egypt's 25 January revolution sparked. The two revolutions have produced political twins witnessing similar stages at roughly the same time.

After the ousting of Ali, the political figure that dominated the interim Tunisian political scene is no longer the president, but rather the head of the fact-finding committee charged with uncovering the toppled president's crimes.
The following is an Al-Masry Al-Youm interview with Abdel Fattah Omar, head of the National Fact-Finding Committee in Tunisia.
Al-Masry Al-Youm: What is the nature of work of the National Fact-finding Committee and what exactly is its mission?
Abdel Fattah Omar: It is a national independent non-governmental committee operating as part of a strategic plan to serve the Tunisian people. It is not affiliated with any certain person or entity. Its main mission is to prepare a final report on the corruption crimes committed by the main figures of the ousted regime.
Al-Masry: Does its work conflict with that of the judiciary?
Omar: This committee is not a court. It has two missions. The first is to search for facts using legal means. For example, it has the right to ask departments for certain documents it needs and to search public and private places.
At the beginning of its work, it obtained documents from the presidential office, which is a chief source of information.
Its second mission is to formulate future visions and develop a system to combat corruption based on Tunisia’s 2003 United Nations commitments which stipulated the establishment of a permanent independent national anti-corruption authority. This will require reviewing some of the laws currently in force.
Al-Masry: What are your key findings regarding the crimes of corruption committed by the ex-president and his family?
Omar: We searched the presidential palace and other places. There, we found fortified safes that contained more than US$27 million as well as jewelry which we counted over several days.
Then we found 26 million dirhams in Lebanon and several other accounts in many countries, particularly those countries which do not impose restrictions on the entry of foreign funds, such as Switzerland.
Al-Masry: Are you facing trouble restoring the money overseas, like the situation in Egypt?
Omar: We have discovered that returning those funds will be extremely difficult, so we formed a committee for that particular purpose. The fact-finding committee and the committee for the restoration of funds are coordinating their work.
Al-Masry: What has been done with the money found at the presidential palace?
Omar: Those operations are videotaped. Since this money was definitely acquired through administrative corruption, the money is seized by judicial authorities until the crimes through which the money was acquired are proven. At this point, the money will be restored to the state.
Al-Masry: It is said that there are shady connections between the ousted regime and major companies. Have you uncovered any such relations?
Omar: Yes we uncovered relations with some countries, foreign companies and Tunisian companies operating overseas. We still need more information and evidence regarding Ben Ali’s relationship with Israel.
Al-Masry: Does popular pressure affect the work of the fact finding committee or the judiciary ?
Omar: There is considerable popular pressure, which is both legitimate and understandable. However, we can either choose to search for the truth and prepare documented evidence, which is a long, bumpy road because there are certain judicial steps to be followed, or rush to conclusions, which is what we want to avoid.
Al-Masry: If you find evidence to indict Ben Ali in corruption cases, do you plan to ask Saudi Arabia to hand him over to you or to impose the punishment there?
Omar: Tunisia is already calling on Saudi Arabia to hand Ben Ali over and communicating with Interpol for that reason. We will not give up on demands for the handover of Ben Ali and his family. However, our efforts may not succeed because Saudi Arabia believes it should be hospitable to its guests.
When Ugandan dictator Idi Amin fled to Saudi Arabia, it refused to hand him over to judicial authorities in Uganda. But we hope Saudi Arabia will be able to understand the situation in Tunisia and hand him over to be tried.
Al-Masry: How does Tunisia plan for its political future?
Omar: Tunisia is currently preparing to write a new constitution. It will be drafted by a panel elected through the proportional list system. Each list will have equal members of men and women men and women and at least one member who is under 30. This proposal may be subject to discussion, however. The elections law, meanwhile, has already been approved.
Elections for the panel will be held in October. This panel may then choose a temporary president and government. This temporary president will have all powers until a new constitution is drawn up.
Al-Masry: How are you politically dealing with Islamic elements?
Omar: Islamic movements have different orientations. For one, the Tahrir Party has radical ideas and has failed to gain recognition and approval for its activities.
But there are other Islamic waves, however. We are aware that the flexibility demonstrated by Islamic movements are only temporary and tactical. We cannot guarantee they will remain as flexible in the future.
Al-Masry: How do you see the developments in Egypt?
Omar: The Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions are similar. They are both required to purge their countries of dictatorships. In both, there are security issues and important social demands as well as exaggerated demands.
Both also have discussions, which are sometimes serious and at other times shallow or conflicting.
I believe, however, that the road Egypt has taken leads to conflict. There is a rush to satisfy the public.
Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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