Freeze on Ben Ali Swiss funds expires, as Tunisia drags its feet 

It is 10 years since protestors were burning images of Ben Ali in Tunisia's revolution. But the 10 years since his ouster have been chaotic. Keystone / Christophe Ena

A ten-year freeze on former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s assets in Switzerland has expired, but Bern says the funds will not be released immediately.   

This content was published on January 19, 2021 - 13:55

The freeze by Switzerland’s federal government expired at midnight on Monday, because of a ten-year maximum legal limit. But, according to a foreign ministry press releaseExternal link, most of the CHF60 million ($67 million) assets of Ben Ali and his entourage are also covered by a second freeze ordered in the context of judicial cooperation. 

Responding to the uprising of the “Arab Spring” which drove Ben Ali from power, Switzerland in early 2011 froze assets in Switzerland of the late president and eight members of his clan, including his wife Leila Trabelsi. Ben Ali died in exile in Saudi Arabia in 2019. 

“The prospects for restitution now depend on the progress of Tunisian criminal proceedings and judicial cooperation,” says the foreign ministry. “The expiry of the freeze in no way alters Switzerland's willingness to return assets whose illicit origin has been established. Switzerland will continue to support the asset recovery process.” 

Bern had already warned Tunis in December that it must step up legal proceedings if it wants to prove the funds were ill-gotten and to get them back.  

Tunisia’s 10-year transition has been dogged by economic and political instability, including many changes of government. “During these 10 long years, successive governments have shown only negligence, conflicts of interest and disdain for their own citizens in the handling of this issue which should have been considered essential and urgent,” a group of Tunisian NGOs including Lawyers without Borders said in a joint press release on Saturday. 

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