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Tunisia's Ben Ali and wife found guilty in absentia

A Tunisian court sentenced the country’s ousted president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and his wife, Leila Trabelsi, to 35 years in prison and a fine of roughly $66 million.

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A man holds a wanted poster for deposed Tunisian Zine el Abidine Ben Ali outside of the courthouse. Ben Ali and his wife were found guilty of misusing public funds, and were sentenced to 35 years in prison each. (Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images)

A Tunisian court has reportedly sentenced Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the country’s ousted president, and his wife to 35 years each in prison and fined them $66 million after a trial in absentia for misuse of public funds.

"The court has ruled the facts against Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi have been established," Judge Touhami Hafi said, Agence France-Presse reports.

The judge said the sentences would take immediate effect, despite the couple being in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh has refused Tunisian extradition requests.

(From GlobalPost: Tunisia set to block access to internet porn)

Ben Ali and his wife were charged with embezzlement after the discovery of money and jewelery in their palace in Carthage on the outskirts of Tunis.

Ben Ali still faces charges for the possession of illegal drugs, firearms and archeological relics, as well as for ordering the killing of civilians in the uprising that sparked the so-called Arab Spring, the New York Times reports.

That case, targeting Ben Ali only, was postponed to June 30 to allow his lawyers more time to prepare their defense, AFP reports.

Ben Ali, meanwhile, has reportedly issued a statement through lawyers calling the proceedings "a false and shameful image of victor’s justice."

One of the court-appointed lawyers for Ben Ali said he and his wife would have to come back to Tunisia if they wished to appeal their convictions, the Wall Street Journal reports.

"They were tried in absentia, but can't lodge appeal in absentia," he reportedly said.

According to the Times, the couple:

... are reviled in Tunisia for presiding over a corrupt administration that enabled Ms. Trabelsi, a former hairdresser from a humble family, to help her relatives quickly achieve vast fortunes and opulent lifestyles.

The most notorious of her kin, Sakher el Materi — known derisively as “Mr. Son-in-Law” — kept a caged tiger that ate four chickens a day and he boasted of the Roman columns, frescoes and lion’s head fountain at his villa.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/110620/tunisia-president-guilty-absentia