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Tunisia TV boss on trial for corruption

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The head of a Tunisian TV channel Ettounsiya, Sami Fehri, speaks on March 24 2011 during a radio talk show in Tunis. His trial for alleged corrution during the rule of now-toppled strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, opened with the defence requesting bail. (AFP)

The trial of Tunisian television chief Sami Fehri, accused of corruption during the rule of now-toppled strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, opened Friday with the defence requesting bail and the court denying it.

Fehri, who runs the private Ettounsiya TV and was a business partner of Ben Ali's fugitive brother-in-law Belhassen Trabelsi, was arrested last August accused of having illegally used state television funds to bolster his own production company Cactus Prod.

If found guilty he could be sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Six former regime officials are being tried alongside Fehri on similar charges of corruption, including Abdelwaheb Abdallah, a former Ben Ali adviser.

They also risk a 10-year jail sentence if convicted.

The six have also been behind bars but the court agree on Friday, following a brief hearing devoted to procedure, to set them free on bail, Sonia Dahmani, a member of the defence team, told AFP.

Technically it also agreed to release Fehri on bail, but the decision was immediately overruled because he is also in custody in connection with another case, Dahmani said.

A new hearing has been set for October 25.

Fehri founded Ettounsiya TV in 2011, after the popular uprising that toppled Ben Ali.

Before that he was a producer and business partner of Belhassen Trabelsi who held 51 percent of the shares in Cactus Prod.

Trabelsi, a brother of Ben Ali's powerful and hated wife Leila Trabelsi, fled to Canada and his stake in Cactus Prod has been seized by the authorities.

Fehri's arrest in August triggered condemnation in Tunisia as it came just after the television boss announced he was pulling the plug on a satirical show, claiming he took the decision following government pressure.