Ben Ali brother-in-law ‘dies in custody’

Moncef Trabelsi at a court hearing in Tunis on August 10, 2011.  By Fethi Belaid (AFP)

Moncef Trabelsi at a court hearing in Tunis on August 10, 2011. By Fethi Belaid (AFP)

TUNIS (AFP) – Moncef Trabelsi, the brother-in-law of ousted Tunisian strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who was jailed for fraud, has died in custody of a brain tumour, the country’s prisons chief said on Friday.

“He died at the neurological hospital where he was taken (from jail) on March 18. He had been operated on for a brain tumour,” the prisons chief, Habib Sboui, told AFP.

Sboui added that Trabelsi, 69, had been unconscious for the past “four or five days”.

But his lawyer, Wissem Saidi, blamed the authorities for his death, alleging that Trabelsi did not get proper care in custody.

“I consider that… the ministry of justice and prison authorities are responsible for his death because he was not treated the way he should have been,” Saidi told AFP.

“My client had been successfully operated on for a brain tumour some 20 days ago… but only four days later he was back in jail where (follow-up) conditions are not adequate,” he added.

Saidi said Trabelsi had been in coma for the past week.

Trabelsi had been jailed at Mornaguia prison, in the suburbs of Tunisia where members of the toppled regime are also detained.

He was tried in 2011 on charges of fraud and sentenced to two years in jail, and last year he was handed an 18-month sentence for having tried to smuggle money out of Tunisia.

The first sentence against him came on the heels of the January 2011 uprising that toppled Ben Ali.

His sister is Leila Trabelsi, the wife of Ben Ali, who was also accused of stealing state funds.

The couple fled to Saudi Arabia on January 14 of that year amid a massive popular uprising against his rule.

Other members of Moncef Trabelsi’s extended family, including in-laws, were arrested in Tunisia where they faced trials in a military court.

But unlike some members of the Trabelsi clan, which wielded much sway during Ben Ali’s rule, he himself held little influence in the country’s affairs.

One of his brothers, Belhassen, fled Tunisia for Canada, where in May the immigration board rejected his residency appeal.

Other clan members have been tried and jailed for corruption, including Imed Trabelsi, a nephew of the toppled first-lady who is serving jail time for fraud.