Magharebia (Washington DC)

28 December 2012

Tunisia Sells Off Ben Ali Assets

Tunis — Lamborghinis, BMWs, jewellery, shoes, and other luxury items are all headed for the auction block as Tunisia looks to recoup money from Ben Ali's ill-gotten gains.

Tunisia on Saturday (December 22nd) kicked off a month-long public auction of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's assets.

Items once belonging to Ben Ali and 114 of his relatives are on display in Gammarth, where Tunisians and foreign collectors can bid on the items. Seized property valued at less than 10,000 dinars (5,000 euros) will be sold at a fixed price, with more expensive items are open for bidding.

The assets were seized under a 2011 law. The government hopes the sale will raise 20 million dinars (10 million euros) for public coffers.

Ben Ali's Lebanese lawyer, Akram Azouri, told AFP that the sale was "illegal" and threatened to take the case to the UN Human Rights Council.

Azouri also claimed that 90 per cent of the items up for auction did not belong to the ousted dictator or his wife, Leila Trabelsi. The lawyer added that those that did belong to Ben Ali were acquired "legally and legitimately during a quarter of a century in power".

Interim Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali opened the exhibition to bidders eager to see more than jewellery, handbags, clothing, shoes, wristwatches, blankets, textiles, crystal, ceramics, paintings, antiques, home appliances, rugs, furniture, and sport and water bikes.

But the biggest draw is the Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi car collection.

The Gammarth expo features 39 luxury cars, including a Lamborghini Gallardo LP 460, a Bentley Continental sports car, an armoured Cadillac, a Rolls Royce, and various limited edition Mercedes and BMWs. The collection also includes a Mercedes Maybach donated by Moamer Kadhafi to Ben Ali in 2003.

The sale and auction items represent only 15 to 20 per cent of the confiscated property, according to Economic Affairs Minister Ridha Saidi.

Leila Trabelsi's shoes and handbags cost between 300 and 3,000 euros. Suits once owned by Ben Ali are expected to go for 3,000 euros each. The price of one car was set at 3 million euros.

The show drew a large crowd during its first days. People were curious to discover luxury in which Ben Ali's family lived as well as explore the life of the super-rich.

"This wealth and corruption are obscene; people paid for it with their suffering, poverty and destitution," Randa Swilem commented. "The price of a pen or a wristwatch made of diamonds could contribute to the development of a region or solve the problem of youth unemployment."

Her friend Souha Jday said, "We came today to watch where our looted money for more than 20 years has gone. We were shocked with jewellery studded with diamonds, emeralds and precious stones and a large volume of shoes and bags with international brands, as well as luxury cars. It is amazingly incredible."

"I came to the exhibition wanting to buy one of the coats of Ben Ali, but I was shocked by its high price. I will take some pictures standing next to them instead," Saber Mejri said.

The exhibition is expected to draw some 500 visitors each day.

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