Ousted Tunisian president has prime assets in Canada: Report

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TUNIS - The family of Tunisia’s ousted president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, has assets worth $10 million to $20 million in Canada, a media report said.

Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in a private jet Jan 14.

But the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has said it cannot act to freeze the money until it gets more evidence from Tunisia that the money was looted.

A senior police commander told Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper the force does not have enough proof to persuade a judge to order the blocking of the Ben Ali family’s assets.

“We have not yet received the evidence,” said Bob Paulson, RCMP deputy commissioner in charge of federal and international policing.

“To the extent that the Tunisians produce evidence of a substantive offence that links to the money, we can make restraints and forfeiture through the Criminal Code.”

Tunisian Ambassador to Canada, Mouldi Sakri, however, said Tunisia needs Canada’s judicial assistance and forensic expertise to investigate into the money-laundering charges.

“We need Canada’s help to find out the source of the money,” Sakri said. “They have the means to do it here.”

He made a formal request for assistance to Ottawa, he said, acknowledging his government is yet to come up with proof that Tunisian assets in Canada have an illicit source.

“We are in the process of gathering the evidence little by little,” he said. “We are trying to do the maximum that we can, but it’s not at all easy.”

The government has not said how much money could be frozen by Canada, but sources told the daily the total ranges between $10 million and $20 million.

Belhassen Trabelsi, the former president’s brother-in-law, flew to Montreal with his family on a private jet Jan 20. He has requested refugee status.

Five days after Ben Ali’s ouster, Switzerland froze the assets of more than 40 people in his entourage, citing an article in the Swiss constitution allowing the government to issue any orders to “safeguard the interests of the country”.

The European Union has also locked down his assets.

Though the RCMP began investigating the money trail, working with names provided by Tunisia, without strong proof that the money has illicit origins, the police cannot proceed beyond information-gathering, Paulson said.

Filed under: Politics

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