France has released Belhassen Trabelsi, brother-in-law of ousted Tunisian president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, on bail while it mulls a extradition request from Tunisia, sources said Sunday.
Lawyers Xavier Nogueras and Marcel Ceccaldi said they had obtained Trabelsi’s conditional release “owing to procedural problems”, confirming news initially announced by the Tunisian justice ministry.
Trabelsi, 56, who faced charges of organised money laundering and has paid 100,000 euros in bail, must remain in France and report regularly to a local police station, they added.
It was the second time that an appeals court in Aix-en-Provence, southeastern France, had ordered his release from a jail in Marseille.
The first time was on March 28, but before Trabelsi walked free, the Aix-en-Provence prosecutor arrested him again based on a February 2017 warrant issued by a Tunisian magistrate.
Tunisia’s extradition request refers to a series of convictions in absentia and three 10-year sentences handed down between February 2017 and June 2018 for financial crimes.
A Tunisian prosecutor has accused Trabelsi of “pillaging Tunisian businesses” alongside Ben Ali.
Trabelsi, whose holdings included hotels and an airline, has denied the allegations against him, saying he accumulated his wealth legally.
A leaked US diplomatic cable in 2008 described Trabelsi and his family as a “quasi-mafia” involved in a series of suspect businesses and deals.
The millionaire businessman and brother of Ben Ali’s wife Leila Trabelsi left Tunisia in January 2011 when the Arab Spring uprising forced the veteran leader to flee to Saudi Arabia.
Trabelsi and his family flew in a private jet to Montreal to seek Canadian political asylum, a request that was denied twice.
He disappeared in June 2016 just days before he was to be expelled from Canada, and was arrested in southern France in March 2019.
France’s hearing of the Tunisian extradition request is expected to be held in June.
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