Tunisian party leader stays away after corruption link

AFP , Saturday 12 Nov 2011

The leader of the Justice and Development party in Tunisia failed to arrive in Tunis from his London home after being named in an official report on corruption during the former regime of Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali

Tunisian businessman Hechi Haamdi, whose party came third in elections for a new national assembly, failed to arrive in Tunis from his London home Saturday after being named in a report on corruption.

Aides said he had decided to postpone his return to the country to show his "strong discontent" at being linked to the ousted regime of Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali in the report published Friday.

Several dozen people turned up at the airport to welcome Haamdi, whose Petition for Justice and Development party won 26 seats in the October 23 election for a constituent assembly to draw up a new competition.

He has not been in Tunisia since Ben Ali fled the country on January 14 in the wake of a popular uprising, not even during the run-up to the election, campaigning through the medium of A-Mustakilla television station which he owns.

Reports said he planned to spend two or three weeks in Tunisia from Saturday, talking to politicians and pushing his party's populist agenda.

Haamdi is from the central town of Sidi Bouzid, where the uprising against Ben Ali's regime began. Rioting broke out there after the October polling when authorities disqualified some of his party's candidates.

The businessman, who has Tunisian and British nationality, denies allegations that he was close to Ben Ali, saying he had not spoken to the former president since 1999.

Friday's 345-page report was drawn up by a National Investigation Committee on corruption and misappropriation among members of the former regime.

It highlighted the extent of corruption not only at the top of the state but also in state agencies, ministries, banks, customs authorities, the media and among lawyers.

The report only identified suspects by the initials of their names but additional information on Ben Ali's official correspondence with various figures, including Haamdi, was attached.

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