PARIS – An attorney representing Tunisia's ousted president denied Friday the charges against him and dismissed his upcoming trial as politically motivated.
After 23 years in power, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia on Jan. 14 in the midst of a popular uprising, and he and his family are now facing dozens of 93 charges in the civilian courts of their homeland.
Ben Ali, his former interior minister and other of the fallen regime's top security officials also face nearly 200 charges in military tribunals, the head of military justice, Col. Major Marwane Bouguerra, said Friday.
Tunisia has asked Saudi Arabia to extradite Ben Ali, but the request has gone unanswered, so the longtime strongman is slated to be tried in absentia starting next week. He and his wife Leila, who also fled the country in January, are to face charges including abuse of power, drug trafficking and weapons possession.
Jean-Yves Leborgne, a Paris-based lawyer representing Ben Ali, dismissed the upcoming trial as a bid by those now in power in the small North African nation to eradicate the past.
"It can be summed up as the justice of the winner," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Asked about images broadcast on Tunisian television showing caches of arms and large sums of cash in one of Ben Ali's palaces, Leborgne said the weapons were "gifts."
For months, rumors have swirled that Ben Ali has suffered debilitating health problems since he fled into exile. While Leborgne declined to answer specific questions about Ben Ali's health, saying he is not a doctor, the attorney said a meeting with his client took place under "normal circumstances."
"He's not in the state that he's said to be in," Leborgne said.
Bouguerra, the head of Tunisian military justice, said most of the military tribunals' charges against Ben Ali and his entourage are in their preliminary stages. Still, an initial trial will take place in the eastern city of Sfax starting June 27 in the death of a man allegedly killed by security forces.
The street protests that began in Tunisia in mid-December have since spread throughout much of the Arab world, raging in neighboring Libya, as well as in Syria and Yemen.