Nephew of Tunisian Leader Reclaims Assets

     (CN) - EU lawmakers failed to justify the extension of an asset freeze against the nephew of Tunisia's former president, the General Court ruled.
     The European Council froze the assets of Mehdi Ben Ali in 2011 at the request of Tunisian authorities investigating the money laundering and wholesale corruption that brought down the presidency of Zine el-Abindine Ben Ali.
     A Tunisian court convicted the former president and his wife in absentia of illegally taking money and state property out of the country and acquiring real estate and other assets abroad.
     During the investigation and trial, lawmakers in the EU froze the assets of family members including nephew Mehdi Ben Ali at Tunisia's request.
     They extended the blacklist on the nephew through 2013, leading him to appeal on the basis that he had been merely investigated while others on the list had been convicted of wrongdoing. In addition to annulment, Mehdi Ben Ali sought nearly $69,000 in damages from the EU over the extension.
     In a Wednesday opinion released in French only, the EU General Court agreed that EU lawmakers had no legal basis to freeze the nephew's assets. The court expressed doubt that Tunisian criminal law links money laundering and misappropriation of state funds.
     "The council has not established or even maintained that an individual may be described, under Tunisian criminal law, as being 'responsible for misappropriation of state funds' merely because he is subject to a 'judicial investigation' for 'money-laundering' offenses," the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement.
     Since other reasons might justify Ben Ali's inclusion on the blacklist, however, the court agreed to keep the asset freeze in place for at least the next 60 days so lawmakers may appeal the annulment.
     The court also rejected Ben Ali's claim for damages, finding that he had offered no proof of falling behind on household bills or that his daughter has been threatened with expulsion from school because of the frozen funds.