Ben Ali and his wife, now in exile, were sentenced to 35 years in prison in an earlier trial last month [AFP]

A Tunisian court has sentenced former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in absentia to 15 years in prison on charges of trafficking in drugs, weapons and archaeological artifacts.

The verdict and sentence were read out by the judge after a one-day trial on Monday.

Presiding judge Touhmi Hafi noted Ben Ali's absence for the record, saying: "The accused is not present and is a fugitive."

In his second trial since fleeing to Saudi Arabia following a popular uprising in January, the former president was also given a fine of $72,000, Reuters news agency reported.

In Monday's trial, Ben Ali was accused of harbouring drugs and weapons at his palace in the Carthage neighbourhood north of Tunis, as well as drug trafficking.

Lawyers for the former president boycotted the trial, saying it was a sham.

His attorneys pressed for another postponement to allow them more time to prepare their defence.

After their request was turned down, the lawyers stormed out, blasting what they called "the disregard for the rights of the defence".

Living in exile

Monday's ruling follows a verdict on June 20 that sentenced Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi to 35 years in prison for misappropriating public funds and also imposed a $65.3m fine.

Ben Ali denounced his June 20 conviction as a "parody of justice" and "political liquidation", in a statement.

The former president ruled Tunisia for more than two decades before fleeing the country after a month-long popular uprising.

The couple has been living in exile since then, with Riyadh ignoring, at least publicly, Tunisian demands for their extradition.

In addition to Monday's hearing, Ben Ali and his aides face possible legal proceedings in no fewer than 182 other cases.

In one, a military court is expected to consider charges relating to the 300 people killed during the uprising.

Source: Agencies