5:14pm

Mon June 20, 2011
The Two-Way

Tunisia's Ben Ali And His Wife Convicted In Absentia

Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the former leader of Tunisia, was sentenced to 35 years in prison after a day-long trial in Tunis. Ben Ali and his wife, who sought exile in Saudi Arabia in January, were convicted in absentia. The two were charged with embezzlement among other things.

The AP reports:

Ben Ali, 74, vigorously denied the charges in a statement through his French lawyer, calling the proceedings a "shameful masquerade of the justice of the victorious."

Saudi Arabia did not respond to an extradition request, and some Tunisians expressed frustration that he would not be present for his judgment.

Ben Ali and his wife were charged in the discovery of a trove of valuable jewels and cash in Tunisian and foreign currency at a palace in a village north of Tunis. Images of the cache shown on TV after the discovery shocked Tunisians.

Ben Ali's conviction, as the Wall Street Journal puts it, is the first "public accounting" of a deposed Arab leader. Tunisia's protests in January sparked what's come to be known as the Arab Spring.

In its story, the Journal also details how Ben Ali used his power to manipulate competitors and mold things to benefit his business interests, which were amazingly broad:

Administrators who are freezing assets of more than 100 Ben Ali family members say they are uncovering an economic network so vast that untangling it too quickly could disrupt Tunisia further. Instead of closing down businesses owned by Mr. Ben Ali's relatives, for example, authorities are in most cases allowing them to operate under court-appointed managers.

"No crime will be left unpunished," Tunisia's new interim Prime Minister Béji Caïd Essebsi said in a recent television speech. "But Tunisians must be patient."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.