Tunisia media magnate runs for office despite arrest

Karoui remains on definitive list of candidates for upcoming presidential election despite arrest alleged money laundering.

TUNIS - Media magnate Nabil Karoui remains in the race for Tunisia's upcoming presidential election despite his arrest for alleged money laundering, the head of the country's electoral commission said Saturday.

Karoui, one of 26 presidential candidates given preliminary approval this month to run in the September 15 election, was arrested on Friday, his party said.

A judicial official said an arrest warrant had been issued for Karoui and his brother Ghazi for money laundering.

"Nabil Karoui is still a candidate and his name remains on the preliminary and definite list of candidates" who are vying to become Tunisia's next president, electoral commission (ISIE) head Nabil Baffoun said.

"Following his arrest... as long as there are no changes in his legal status... he remains a presidential candidate," Baffoun told the private Mosaique FM radio station.

According to Baffoun, even candidacies of convicted individuals in Tunisia are accepted so long as the verdict against them does not specifically say they are banned from running in an election.

The tycoon was charged with money laundering in early July shortly after stating his intention to stand in the polls, but has remained a leading candidate.

'Degrading and dictatorial practices' 

His party, Qalb Tounes, announced his arrest the same day that authorities declared a ban on three local outlets -- including Karoui's Nessma TV -- from reporting on the election campaign over unlicensed "illegal" broadcasts.

On Saturday, the party alleged Prime Minister Youssef Chahed was behind the arrest, but said it would only serve to promote Karoui's campaign.

"We are making a direct accusation against Youssef Chahed and his gang of having orchestrated this arrest," a Qalb Tounes (Heart of Tunisia) senior official, Iyadh Elloumi, told a news conference.

He said such "degrading and dictatorial practices" would only serve as "free publicity" for Karoui.

The Tunisian Human Rights League said Karoui's arrest "raises a lot of doubt and undermines the judiciary".

The NGO, in a statement, called for an enquiiry into the decision to arrest him.

Rashed Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party said he was "not happy to see a party or party leader hindered".

"We want the independence of the judiciary and we expect explanations," he said on local radio,

Justice Minister Karim Jamoussi has ordered his ministry to look into the circumstances of the issuance of the arrest warrants of Karoui and his brother "to assure the legality" of the procedures, a ministry official said.

Karoui has been accused by regulators and some politicians of using Nessma to bolster his political ambitions.

He was nearly removed from the race in June when parliament passed an amended electoral code that would bar any candidate who handed out "favours in cash or in kind" in the year before the vote.

But then-president Beji Caid Essebsi neither rejected nor enacted the bill, leaving the door open for Karoui to run.

Essebsi died last month at the age of 92.