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Africa
Tunisia's Ben Ali goes on trial in absentia
Lawyers say they will request a postponement to prepare his defence against charges related to theft, drugs and weapons.
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2011 08:15
Ben Ali 's lawyers have rejected the charges, saying the trial has 'no goal but to accuse yesterday's president' [Reuters]

The legal team of the ousted Tunisian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who has gone on trial in Tunis, intends to request a postponement to prepare his defence, according to one of his lawyers.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 in the face of a popular uprising against his 23-year rule and is being tried in absentia by a criminal court over scores of cases against him and his entourage.

"We will ask for a postponement of the hearing to get in contact with our client and prepare the ways to defend him," Hosni Beja, a court-appointed lawyer, told the AFP news agency on Sunday.

Akram Azoury, another Ben Ali lawyer who is based in Beirut, said earlier that his client "strongly denies all charges they are trying to press as he never possessed the sums of money they claimed to have found in his office".

Drugs and weapons

Ben Ali, the first leader toppled in a wave of Arab uprisings, faces charges related to theft, drugs and weapons, following the reported discovery of around $27m in jewels and cash plus drugs and weapons at two palaces outside Tunis.

He could face up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of the charges.

More serious charges, including plotting against the security of the state and murder, will be dealt with at future trials.

Monday's session is only the beginning of a long legal process that may see senior members of Ben Ali's government in the dock over allegations including murder, torture, money laundering and trafficking of archaeological artifacts.

Of the 93 charges Ben Ali and his inner circle now face, 35 will be referred to the military court, Kadhem Zine El Abidine, a justice ministry spokesman, said.

Five public defenders have been assigned to Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, who is accused in one of the two cases in Monday's trial.

Foreign lawyer

Tunisian law prohibits a foreign lawyer from defending a client in absentia, judicial officials say, meaning a French lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, cannot take part in the proceedings.

In the statement released by Le Borgne, Ben Ali "vigorously denies" accusations against him, claiming most of the weapons found were gifts from visiting heads of state.

"As for the drugs allegedly found, that is a lie and an ignominy ... It is absurd and defamatory,'' the statement from the lawyer said. The trial has "no goal but to accuse yesterday's president".

Ben Ali said in the statement: "I devoted my life to my country and aspire, at the twilight of my existence, to conserve my honour."

Backed by his powerful party that controlled all sectors, Ben Ali governed with an iron fist, suppressing dissent and quashing all freedom of expression.

Saudi Arabia has not responded to an extradition request, and some Tunisians expressed frustration that Ben Ali would not be present for his judgement.

Source:
Agencies
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