A Tunisian criminal court Friday convicted a nephew of the wife of Tunisia's ousted former president Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], immediately pronouncing an 18-year prison sentence for writing over USD $399 million in bad checks. Imed Trabelsi, viewed as the favorite nephew of former first lady Leila Trabelsi, is already in jail for other crimes including drug possession, money laundering and embezzlement [AP report], and has been on a hunger strike since November 8 to protest what he says are unfair trials. According to the Tunisian News Agency, Trabelsi's lawyer requested the hearing be postponed [TAP report], but the court deemed it unnecessary and decided to pronounce the verdict. Trabelsi has already appealed his drug convictions and lost [JURIST report], and may still face additional charges. The former businessman was arrested after Ben Ali fled the country to Saudi Arabia in January when the regime toppled under nationwide protests.
Tunisia has been cracking down on the family of Ben Ali since the ousted president fled the country amidst the protests, ending the 23-year autocratic rule in which his family amassed substantial wealth that many Tunisians say was accrued at their expense. In June a Tunisian court sentenced [JURIST report] in absentia Sofiane Ben Ali, another nephew of Ben Ali, to 15 years in prison for issuing bad checks totaling more than USD $430,000. That same week, Ben Ali and his wife were convicted in absentia and sentenced to 35 years in prison on charges of theft and unlawful possession of money and jewelry just hours after the trial began that morning [JURIST reports]. The two were also charged with illegal possession of drugs and weapons. Ben Ali said he was "duped" into leaving [AFP report] the capital Tunis, according to a statement released through his lawyer. He said that he was trying to get his family out of the country after assassination threats and that the plane left him in Saudi Arabia despite orders to wait for him. Ben Ali has denied the charges against him [JURIST report], most of which stem from allegations he authorized the use of force against protesters during the protests, resulting in more than 200 deaths.