Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has already been twice convicted and sentenced in absentia [REUTERS]
Twenty-three allies of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the toppled Tunisian leader, have appeared before a court in the capital Tunis for trying to flee the country last January with illegally obtained foreign currency.
Among those in court on Tuesday were Ali Seriati, Ben Ali's former security chief, and Imed Trabelsi, the newphew of the deposed leader's wife, Leila Trabelsi.
Imed Trabelsi was one of the most reviled men from the former ruling clan while Seriati headed Ben Ali's feared presidential guard which supervised all other security agencies.
In all, 35 people are facing charges but only 23 associates of Ben Ali arrested in January appeared before the court on Tuesday.
Fourteen handcuffed men and nine women, wearing white full-length robes, entered the tiny courtroom that was packed with journalists and lawyers.
The 23 were arrested and found to be in possession of a large sum in foreign currency as they tried to flee the country on January 14, the day Ben Ali and his wife fled into exile in Saudi Arabia after a popular revolt.
Seriati, who is suspected of having planned a series of attacks aimed at fanning nation-wide chaos, told the court that fake passports were made at the presidential palace specifically for Ben Ali's immediate family.
The 23 defendants have all been held at the Aouina military base in Tunis since their arrest.
"You tried to flee the country on January 14 in possession of foreign currency and jewels," court president Faouzi Jbelli said, before reading out the charges against each of the accused.
Imed Trabelsi, wearing a white polo shirt, rejected the charges, denied that he had sought to flee the country and said the money in his possession came from "legal activities".
Jewels, drugs and cash
The prosecution said Imed, who was already sentenced to four years in jail in June for drug possession, had 36 watches and five kilograms of jewelery when he was nabbed at the airport. Another co-defendant, Moncef Trabelsi, was caught with $2,400 and 17,500 euros.
A defence lawyer said the trial might be postponed after the reading of the charges.
Since his escape to Saudi Arabia, Ben Ali has already been twice convicted and sentenced in trials held in his absence.
On July 4, a Tunis court sentenced him to 15 and a half years in jail for possession of arms, drugs and archaeological items - and fined him $78,112.
And in June, Ben Ali and his wife were sentenced to 35 years in prison and fined $65m for misappropriating public funds after police found large sums of cash and jewelery in their palace.
Ben Ali denounced his first conviction as a "parody of justice" and "political liquidation" in a statement issued last month.
But he and his entourage face possible legal proceedings in about 180 other cases.