Tunisia arrests business owner on suspicion of stealing from state companies

By Tarek Amara

TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian public prosecutor ordered on Tuesday the arrest of one of the country's richest business owners, Marouan Mabrouk, son-in-law of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, on suspicion of stealing funds from state companies, a judicial official told Reuters.

Mabrouk has not been charged. It was not clear how much money Mabrouk is suspected of stealing or from which companies.

The government took ownership of the companies when it seized property of the former president's family after the 2011 revolution that toppled his autocratic rule.

The complaint about Mabrouk was submitted by the public prosecutor for state disputes, said Mohamed Zaitouna, the spokesman for Tunis court.

Mabrouk is part of an influential family with business interests in trade, banking, communications and car dealerships. Mabrouk also controls a major supermarket chain and owns shares in BIAT Bank, French telecom Orange and a biscuit company.

He is one of Ben Ali's few relatives who did not flee Tunisia after 2011. Mabrouk, however, has faced criticism that he received support and protection from successive governments after 2011.

President Kais Saied, who seized control of the government and dissolved parliament in 2021 in a move that the opposition described as a coup, struck a committee last year to collect money from business owners involved in financial corruption cases, to reduce Tunisia's budget deficit.

The president had said that these business owners must pay and that the state will not give up what is owed to it.

($1 = 3.1567 Tunisian dinars)

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Rod Nickel)