TUNIS — A court sentenced 25 relatives of Tunisia's ousted leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to jail Friday, most of them caught trying to flee with cash and jewels at the climax of January's revolution.
In one of several trials of figures from the toppled regime, the court in Tunis also issued fines totalling 200 million dinar (more than 100 million euros) for members of Ben Ali's family, and his wife Leila Trabelsi.
Among those it sentenced to jail terms of four months to six years was Trabelsi, who fled to Saudi Arabia with her husband on January 14 when he quit after 23 years in power amid protests that sparked uprisings across the region.
She was among six people sentenced in absentia in the trial of 32 people over attempts by several of her relatives to illegally flee Tunisia with cash and jewels.
Six relatives were acquitted, as was the former head of presidential security, General Ali Seriati, charged with complicity in the attempted escape and falsification of passports.
Trabelsi was given six years for complicity after claims that she told her relatives to get to the airport and fly out to France, a plan uncovered by police.
A police colonel said this week he and his men arrested 22 of the group on a bus on the airport tarmac. The pilot of the plane is said to have refused to allow them on board.
Moez Trabelsi, a nephew of the former first lady, was sentenced in absentia to six years in jail while her two sisters, Jalila and Samira, were sentenced to 18 months and four months respectively, the judge said.
Another nephew Imed Trabelsi, a wealthy businessman and former mayor widely disliked by Tunisians, was given two years on top of four handed down in another trial for possession of drugs.
His mother Najia Jridi was jailed for eight months. One of Leila Trabelsi's brothers, Moncef, was sentenced to 18 months.
Even though the court acquitted Seriati on charges related to the attempted escape, the once feared strongman also faces trial on more serious charges of plotting against state security, incitement to criminal acts and provoking disorder.
"It is a glorious day for the Tunisian justice which has shown independence from the government and popular pressure," Abada Kefi, one of Seriati's lawyers, said after Friday's rulings.
Seriati, 72, told AFP after the verdict that Tunisia's former defence minister Ridha Grira was behind the allegations against him.
Grira had repeatedly tried to link him to a coup plot against Ben Ali and wanted him sidelined "at any cost", the former security chief said.
Seriati acknowledged "urging Ben Ali to leave the country to prevent a bloodbath in Tunisia," but insisted he was never involved in a coup.
"I have never been a politician and I did not have such ambitions," he said.
There are scores of judicial proceedings under way against Ben Ali, his extended family and ministers. Around 35 charges are to be referred to a military court, according to the justice ministry.
Some 60 people linked to the Ben Ali regime, including several ministers, are blocked from leaving Tunisia, according to a list released Friday by the justice ministry.
The group includes Oussama Romdhani, the former communications minister as well as the former ministers of tourism and commerce.
Ben Ali, 74, has already accumulated 66 years in jail in trials conducted in his absence, with Tunisia's requests for his extradition from Saudi Arabia not met.
His convictions include corruption, misappropriation of public funds, property fraud, and possession of weapons, drugs and archaeological artefacts.
Ben Ali, whose relatives are accused of using his iron-fisted rule to enrich themselves through involvement in most sectors of the economy, has denied wrongdoing.
On the weapons charge, Ben Ali has said the arms were mainly gifts from foreign leaders; he has described the discovery of drugs in his office after his departure as a set up.
About 300 people were killed in around four weeks of protests, which erupted in the impoverished countryside in December.
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