NEWS

Ottawa eyes former Tunisian ruler's family assets

01/26/2012 02:12 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT

The Canadian government is hoping to keep some of the assets it seized from the former Tunisian dictatorship, Radio-Canada's investigative unit Enquête has learned.

Some members of the former regime have homes and had bank accounts in Canada, and members of the extended family of former Tunisian dictator Zine El Abedine Ben-Ali had roots in Montreal.

Mohamed Sakher El Materi, the 31-year-old billionaire son-in-law of the Tunisian president, still owns a luxurious home in Westmount, and some of his children were born here. El Materi has fled to Qatar since the uprising in Tunisia which ousted the family in January 2011. He has not paid taxes nor bills owed on the Westmount home.

Ben-Ali's brother-in-law, Belhassen Trabelsi, fled to Montreal after the uprising. Trabelsi is a Canadian citizen with Canadian bank acccounts.

The Canadian government has since seized some of the assets of the Ben-Ali clan, and a lawyer for the current Tunisian government who spoke to Radio-Canada said that Canada wants to keep half of the spoils it seized. The lawyer, Enrico Monfrini, was at a meeting in Switzerland earlier this week with Canadian officials present.

"I find it very shocking, you can't share like that, and you won't share like that," said Monfrini.

The current Tunisian government and members of the Tunisian communtiy in Montreal are outraged that Ottawa would try to profit from those assets.

Sonia Djelidi, the president of the Canadian Tunisian Collective, said it's scandalous that the Canadian government is looking to profit from the spoils of a corrupt dictatorship.

"It's money that was stolen from the Tunisian people, it was the profits of a mafia," said Djelidi.

The Tunisian government said most of the money should be returned to Tunisia.

The Canadian government wouldn't comment on the scope or content of seizures made.

But in a email to CBC News, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the freezing of assets "is a temporary measure that applies for an initial five-year period, to allow the new Tunisian officials, who are recovering from a situation of political uncertainty in their country, take the necessary time to duly submit to Canadian judicial authorities their application for judicial co-operation aimed at the definitive seizure of these assets according to the legislation."

"Before Canada could share the proceeds of the disposition of seized property with a foreign state, Canada and that foreign state would have to enter into an agreement to that effect.

"Canada continues to work with the new Tunisian government to ensure that corrupt foreign leaders are held accountable for their actions."

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