Ten years after the revolution, the booty is very thin. While the Ben Ali clan – a hundred close to the former president – had taken over the lucrative sectors of the economy, and diverted to their profit 21% of the profits of the private sector according to the World Bank, Tunisians no ‘have hardly recovered anything from this windfall.
The equivalent of 46 million euros is still kept in Swiss bank accounts, which Switzerland is preparing to lift the freeze on January 19, the prosecution recently reported. In ten years, the Confederation has returned only 4.2 million euros. “A bitter failure. And time is playing against Tunisia ”, sighs Chawki Tabib, former president of the Tunisian anti-corruption body.
→ READ. Tunisia struggles to recover assets looted by the Ben Ali clan
The Gulf countries, for their part, “Refused any cooperation and did not respond to requests from judicial or diplomatic authorities”, notes this specialist. “And the success is hardly better with the European countries which were nevertheless eager to return the goods. “ Apart from 26 million euros from a bank account in Lebanon of Leila Trabelsi, wife of the president, a villa in Canada, two planes and two yachts returned by France, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, fortunes abroad have remained there.
“Western states are demanding final enforceable judgments, but judgments in absentia for all those who have fled are never final for Tunisia”, explains Chawki Tabib. In addition, most of the legal proceedings are still ongoing. “The people concerned no longer hesitate to take legal action against the decision to confiscate their property”, adds an expert on foreclosed companies.
Between judicial justice and transitional justice, a game of massacre
For Sihem Bensedrine, who chaired the Truth and Dignity Commission (IVD) until the end of its work at the end of 2018, “The political will has been lacking”. The management of looted assets has suffered from political crises and the waltz of governments – nine in ten years, not counting the cabinet reshuffle of January 16.
Four organizations had to manage them and did not cooperate. Between judicial justice and transitional justice – the arbitrations with the authors of economic crimes entrusted to the IVD -, it was at best hesitation, at worst a game of massacre. “685 complaints were lodged with the IVD by the head of state litigation in 2015, but in 2016, the minister of state domains opposed the signing of acts for arbitration, the head of litigation has even appealed for the annulment of arbitrations ”, Sihem Bensedrine reports.
Only eight arbitrations were successful for a value of 226 million euros. According to her, figures of the old regime are striving to compromise the restitution process: “The head is fallen, but the octopus of the old regime continues to be influential. “
Unsaleable indebted companies
Even the wealth concentrated in the companies created by the Ben Ali clan, source of much hope, turns into a mirage. “Companies created from scratch to take advantage of an abnormal rent situation were not worth much after the revolution. Others have been with an unbearable level of debt ”, explains the expert of the seized companies.
Companies or participations, whose owners are still uncertain, remain unsaleable. Calls for tenders were not successful because of the cumbersome process, political tensions and the weak absorption capacity of the Tunisian market. In total, the disposals managed by the state holding company Al Karama brought in 606 million euros. Even the five palaces of Sidi Bou Saïd, Hammamet or Sousse of the former presidential family have not found takers.
President Kaïs Saïed aims to relaunch this case plagued by looted assets with a new commission created within the presidency and a reconciliation bill. “The money collected from the businessmen of the old regime, in exchange for an amnesty, would be dedicated to the development of disadvantaged regions, explique Chawki Tabib. But I’m afraid that prospect is overestimated. “
The end of the asset freeze
January 19, the freezing of the assets of former President Ben Ali and his relatives expires in Switzerland, under the maximum period of ten years provided for by federal law. This excludes property sequestered in the context of ongoing criminal proceedings against eleven people.
The European Council must decide, in the days to come, on the one-year extension of the sequestration of the property of 47 Tunisians. Twenty-three of them appear on the French register of asset freezes.
The freezing of Marouane Mabrouk’s assets, ex-son-in-law of Ben Ali, was lifted in 2019 in Switzerland and in the European Union, at the request of the former Tunisian head of government Youssef Chahed. This decision concerning the powerful businessman, who was in particular a majority shareholder of Orange Tunisia, was highly contested.