February 20, 2012 (Al Arabiya)
February 20, 2012 (Al Arabiya)
The charges against former Tunisian President Zein ElAbedine Ben Ali are baseless and the verdict issued against him will be appealed, said Akram Azouri, the Lebanese lawyer of the former president.
“The charges leveled against Ben Ali can be dropped easily if the verdicts against him and his wife are appealed,” Azouri told Al Arabiya.
Azouri said the trial, which was held in absentia, was not fair and witnessed several violations.
“Ben Ali and his wife were sentenced to 35 years in jail less than two hours after the trial began and without allowing the former president to be represented by a defense team.”
According to Azouri, who heads Ben Ali’s defense team, this is unprecedented in the history of the judiciary and that is why he submitted a request to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva to contest the judicial procedures but has not received a response yet.
Azouri also objected to the way Ben Ali’s house was stormed and his property confiscated.
“They violated his privacy and illegally seized his possessions.”
Ben Ali, Azouri pointed out, does not mind being held accountable for anything he did if this will be done through a fair trial.
“What is done now is directing insults at him and accusing him of crimes he did not commit. The main purpose of this trial is just giving a false impression of how fair those in power now are.”
The charges, Azouri explained, are lacking in credibility and this is demonstrated by the fact that Ben Ali had never had all the amounts of money revolutionaries claimed to have found in his office.
“If he had that much money in his possession, why didn’t he take it with him? Plus allegations about the money he had in Switzerland and other European countries have already been proven false.”
Azouri said that the weapons he owned were mainly gifts he received from several heads of state who paid official visits to Tunisia.
“As for the drugs they said were in his possession, this is a flagrant lie. What is the value of two kilograms of hash for a real drug dealer anyway? This is a ridiculous accusation that only aims at tarnishing my client’s image.”
The fact that both the drugs and the money, Azouri argued, were discovered two months after the former president had left Tunisia proves that both charges were fabricated.
“Ben Ali’s wife was also accused of stealing large amounts of gold of the Central Bank of Tunisia right before she left whereas bank records proved that nothing was missing from its gold stock. That is why the prosecutor general had to drop this charge without even needing to hear Ben Ali’s defense.”
Azouri accused the Tunisian Ministry of Justice of violating the Tunisian constitution and human rights treaties to which Tunisia is signatory by preventing him and his team from attending Ben Ali’s trial.
“If there is a contradiction between an action taken by the Ministry of Justice and human rights treaties, the latter should prevail.”
Azouri said he got to know Ben Ali through common Lebanese and Tunisian friends and that he in touch with him on regular basis through emails, Skype, and phone calls.
“I meet with him whenever necessary and I saw him earlier in Saudi Arabia and he seemed to be in good health.”
Azouri said he is not authorized to evaluate Ben Ali’s performance as a president or a politician, yet he stressed that before the revolution Tunisia enjoyed a great deal of security and stability.
“The lawyer’s role is only a technical one and people have the right to take their leader to court as long as the trial is guaranteed to be fair.”
However, he added, the revolutionaries and members of the opposition at Ben Ali’s time have never harassed him in anyway.
“Tunisians are a civilized and peaceful people.”
According to Azouri, Ben Ali was quite upset when he watched Al Arabiya’s documentary “Fleeing Carthage” which tells the story of the former president’s last days in power.
“Ben Ali was deceived by the intelligence, for he planned to leave temporarily and come back later. He did not escape like the film showed.”
Azouri added that Ben Ali was also upset when he watched scenes from the film that depicted him carrying bags of money.
Akram Azouri’s name is linked to several famous cases. In 1999, he defended former Lebanese Industry and Oil Minister Shahi Barsoumian who was facing money laundry and illegal transfer charges.
He was also the lawyer of former director of the Lebanese General Security Major General Jamil al-Sayed who was accused in 2005 of taking part in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and was acquitted in 2009 by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.