Billions taken by Tunisia ex-dictator missing


TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Officials trying to right Tunisia's ailing economy shouldn't count on an estimated $20 billion still to be recovered from the family of the deposed dictator, a prominent Tunisian economist said Friday.

A $28 million check was presented to Tunisia on Thursday, but Ezzedine Saidane said that money was from an easily recovered Lebanese bank account owned by Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's wife — and the rest won't be so easy to get back.

"It will take 15 to 20 years just to get the crumbs," he told The Associated Press. He suggested that Tunisia review its methods of recovering the money.

Ben Ali was ousted in January 2011, inspiring the North African pro-democracy movement. A big part of his unpopularity was the perception that he and his wife's family benefited from their positions to acquire business interests in all sectors of the country. Many believe they spirited much of the money out of the country.

Saidane estimated there was up to $20 billion taken by Ben Ali and the Trabelsi clan, based on an independent study he conducted with other economists.

The check was presented to President Moncef Marzouki in a ceremony by Qatari lawyer Ali Ben Fetis Al Marri who had been charged by the U.N. to recover funds from the deposed leaders of the Arab Spring.

With its chief trading partner in Europe in financial crisis and tourists staying away, Tunisia has been struggling with its economy since the revolution.

One of the key figures trying to orchestrate the recovery is Central Bank head Chedli Ayari, who left Thursday's ceremony in an angry huff according to TV footage.

In a video broadcast by private Nessma TV, Ayari stormed out of the palace where the ceremony was held after Marzouki praised Qatar at length but neglected to mention the efforts of the central bank chief, who is head of national commission to recover funds.

Ayari's predecessor was dismissed last year after conflicts with the president.