Tunisia court adjourns two more trials of ousted ruler
TUNIS - A Tunisian court on Thursday opened and quickly adjourned two more trials of ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, now living in exile in Saudi Arabia, accusing him of corruption and property fraud.
The court granted a request by the defendants' court-appointed lawyers who said they needed more time to prepare their case, scheduling the next hearing for July 28, next Thursday.
Ben Ali's daughter Nesrine and son-in-law Sakher el-Materi are also charged in the first case.
The former ruler is accused of having personally intervened to enable his daughter and her husband to buy two plots of land -- at well below the going rate -- in an upscale district of the Tunisian capital.
In the second case, Ben Ali and his son-in-law are accused of having acquired a plot in the same neighbourhood initially intended to be a park but subsequently reclassified as building land, considerably boosting its value.
Judge Abdel Jridi noted that the defendants were all absent despite the fact that officials had issued international warrants and requested Ben Ali's extradition. Sakher el-Materi has fled to Qatar.
Under Tunisian law, each of the offences carry a possible jail term of up to 10 years. A government official representing the state said they were seeking damages of 20 billion euros.
Hosni Beji, defending Nesrine and Materi, said he had only been contacted by the couple on Thursday and needed more time to prepare their defence.
Ben Ali and his wife fled to Saudi Arabia in mid-January after being forced from power by a popular uprising. Since then, he 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 artefacts -- and fined him 54,000 euros.
And last month, Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi were sentenced to 35 years in prison and fined 45 million euros for misappropriating public funds after police found large sums of cash and jewellery in their palace.