A judge has ordered the detention of Tunisian media mogul Nabil Karoui on suspicion of financial corruption, a spokesman for the judicial court has said.
“The jailing warrant has been issued against Karoui in a case related to money laundering,” a Tunis court spokesperson, Mohsen al-Dali told the DPA news agency on Thursday.
The order was issued after Karoui had earlier been summoned for questioning, the official said.
Karoui, 57, is the leader of the Heart of Tunisia party, the second-largest party in Parliament, and has previously run for president. His party is one of three that support the technocratic government in Parliament.
If the pro-government parliamentary coalition breaks down it would weaken the government of Hichem Mechichi, which is already facing unprecedented economic hardships and protests in many regions demanding better job opportunities.
The Heart of Tunisia party said in a statement Karoui had not been found guilty and called on its supporters to remain calm.
It condemned what it called “campaigns on social media to try to direct the case”.
TAP state news agency said Karoui was to face charges of tax evasion and money laundering.
A member of Karoui’s support committee, lawyer Nazih Souii, said he was “surprised and shocked” by the arrest, and alleged the judge acted under “political pressure”.
Dali, the Tunis court spokesperson, said Karoui can appeal his arrest. Karoui’s brother Ghazi is also facing charges but was not arrested because he enjoys immunity as a parliament deputy, the spokesperson said.
Karoui spent most of last year’s presidential campaign in jail for the same charges, which he called politically driven.
He was arrested in August 2019 but released a few months later on October 9, in the middle of the election, though investigations into his case continued.
Last year, Karoui said he was confident of his innocence and that his political opponents, specifically the Ennahdha Party, were behind his imprisonment. Karoui is now an Ennahdha ally in Parliament.
The case against Karoui was opened after a complaint four years ago by an anti-corruption group.
Karoui, a populist media mogul, founded Nessma TV. He was runner-up in last year’s presidential election, won by Kais Saied, a conservative professor who has promised to root out corruption that has contributed to Tunisia’s economic struggles.
Both candidates rode to the presidential runoff on the disenchantment of Tunisians, particularly young people and the poor, who felt the governing class has not fulfilled the promises of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which unleashed revolts around the Arab world.
Other prominent figures have also been targeted recently in corruption investigations.