May 26, 2017 / 9:57 PM / 2 months ago

Tunisia confiscates property of businessmen arrested for graft

3 Min Read

TUNIS, May 26 (Reuters) - The Tunisian government has confiscated the property and frozen bank accounts of eight prominent businessmen arrested this week on suspicion of corruption in an unprecedented government campaign against graft, authorities said on Friday.

Tunisia has been praised as a model of transition after its 2011 revolution. But it still struggles with economic reforms and corruption six years after the fall of President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in protests triggered in part by official graft.

Mounir Ferchichi, head of the Confiscation Committee, a state-financed agency, told reporters the government had seized property and frozen bank accounts of eight businessmen arrested this week on suspicion of involvement in corruption.

Chafik Jaraya, who maintains political contacts in Tunisia and Libya and helped finance the Nidaa Tounes ruling party during the last elections in 2014, was among those detained, officials said.

"Jaraya was not arrested, but abducted by the Interior Ministry forces. What is important now is his safety and we will speak later about corruption", said Faycel Jadlaoui, lawyer for Jaraya.

The arrests on Tuesday came days after Imed Trabelsi, the son-in-law of former president Ben Ali, apologized to the Tunisian people for corruption and accused businessmen who worked with him of still being involved in customs crimes.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has announced a crackdown on corruption as he comes under pressure from protests in the south over gas production and also from international lenders over slow progress in delivering economic reforms.

The country's anti-corruption committee says graft is still widespread since 2011 and that it threatens Tunisia with billions of dollars a year in losses. The committee has said it presented cases against 50 senior state officials believed to be involved in corruption.

Chahed pledged last year in his first speech since taking office that fighting corruption would be a priority for the government, but he said he believed battling graft would be more difficult than fighting terrorism. (Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Patrick Markey)

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