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Tunisia’s Dictator’s family investigated by Canadian immigration

Canadian immigration authorities are investigating whether the relatives of Tunisia’s deposed president who arrived in Montreal last week are entitled to remain in the country, a department spokeswoman said Monday.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney told CBC Sunday that some family members of former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali have permanent residency status in Canada, allowing them to enter the country freely. His department is now examining whether they have forfeited that status through a prolonged absence from Canada or for any other reason, spokeswoman Melanie Carkner confirmed.

Under Canadian law, permanent residents must live in Canada for at least two years within a five-year period. They lose their status and can be removed from the country if they fail to meet the residency requirement, or if they are convicted of a serious crime.

Sonia Djelidi, co-ordinator of a Montreal group supporting what has become known as Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution, said Mr. Ben Ali’s wealthy, high-profile in-laws could never have lived two years in Canada without the Tunisian community here noticing. “It’s impossible,” Ms. Djelidi said. “They work over there, and they have businesses over there.”

She urged the Canadian government to return the family members to Tunisia to face justice. “They have been actors of this corruption system and they should be judged over there,” she said.

Family members of Mr. Ben Ali’s wife, Leila Trabelsi Ben Ali, are major players in the Tunisian economy and are suspected of enriching themselves through their connections to the regime.

In a 2008 diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks last month, the U.S. embassy in Tunis called Mr. Ben Ali’s extended family a “quasi-mafia” and said it is considered “the nexus of Tunisian corruption.” It said “seemingly half of the Tunisian business community” can claim a connection to Mr. Ben Ali through marriage.

The cable noted that Mr. Ben Ali’s wife has 10 siblings and it is the actions of this extended family that most enrage Tunisians.

“While some of the complaints about the Trabelsi clan seem to emanate from a disdain for their nouveau riche inclinations, Tunisians also argue that the Trabelsis strong-arm tactics and flagrant abuse of the system make them easy to hate,” it said. “Leila’s brother Belhassen Trabelsi is the most notorious family member and is rumored to have been involved in a wide range of corruption schemes, from the recent Banque de Tunisie board shakeup to property expropriation and extortion of bribes.” He controlled the Karthago Group, whose interests include hotels, charter air transport, insurance and luxury car dealerships.

Another prominent member of the clan, Ms. Ben Ali’s nephew Imed Trabelsi, sparked a diplomatic incident between France and Tunisia when he was alleged to have stolen the yacht of a well-connected French businessman. The yacht disappeared from Corsica and was found with a fresh coat of paint in a Tunisian harbour. Attempts to bring him to trial in France failed. Imed Trabelsi was originally reported to have been killed during this month’s uprising, but a report last week said he is in police custody in Tunis.

Ms. Carkner said privacy legislation prevents the government from disclosing which members of the extended Ben Ali family are in Montreal. The Journal de Montreal reported that one of the former first lady’s brothers had flown in by private jet, accompanied by his wife, two children and a nanny. They are reported to be staying in a Montreal hotel.

Mr. Ben Ali’s daughter Nesrine and her husband, Tunisian business mogul Sakher El Materi, own a mansion in the wealthy Montreal neighbourhood of upper Westmount. The home was purchased in July 2008 for $2.5-million, but it is undergoing renovations, and there are no signs that it is currently inhabited.

Mr. El Materi was also the subject of U.S. embassy cables released by WikiLeaks. The cables noted that his youngest child was born in Canada and is a Canadian citizen. They also touched on his “over the top” lifestyle, including the pet tiger named Pasha he kept at his heavily guarded compound. “The opulence with which El Materi and Nesrine live and their behavior make clear why they and other members of Ben Ali’s family are disliked and even hated by some Tunisians,” a 2009 cable concluded. “The excesses of the Ben Ali family are growing.”

After 23 years in power, Mr. Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia Jan. 14 following weeks of violent protests against his regime. The Canadian government has said in a statement, “Mr. Ben Ali, deposed members of the former Tunisian regime and their immediate families are not welcome in Canada.”

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/Dictator+family+investigated+immigration/4160387/story.html#ixzz1CU3F6syn

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