05.07.2006: 05.07.2006: CORRUPTION IN TUNISIA PART III: POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS
C O N F I D E N T I A L TUNIS 001672
STATE FOR NEA/MAG - HARRIS
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/04/2016 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ECON, TS SUBJECT: CORRUPTION IN TUNISIA PART IV: THE FAMILYS HOLDINGS
REF: A. TUNIS (PART 3) B. TUNIS 1630 C. TUNIS 1622
Classified By: AMBASSADOR WILLIAM HUDSON FOR REASONS 1.4 (b) AND (d)
1. (C/NF) SUMMARY: This is the last of a four cable series on corruptions impact on the Tunisian economy and Tunisias political future. The Ben Ali and Trabelsi clans are an increasingly large group that has established important control in major business sectors, the media, and in the politically significant sports world. While verifying the rumors of their holdings is nearly impossible, as few can or will confirm particular assets, the extent of these rumors provides some evidence of their accuracy. Part Four of this series discusses who are the major family members and what are their holdings. The list is not exhaustive, but represents what most observers believe to be the facts about the First Familys businesses. END SUMMARY.
2. (C/NF) When talking about corruption, Tunisians rarely discuss President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali without mentioning "the Family" which includes the extended families of his children and his present wife, Leila (ne Trabelsi). In Tunisias small subset of commercial actors, it seems at least half of the elite are rumored to be somehow related or connected to the President. The notion of a protected elite is nothing new to any developing country, and jokes, anecdotes and fanciful rumors about clan members are abundant. But over the course of the last ten years, the Familys influence has grown significantly and Tunisians anxiety about this has grown proportionately.
3. (C) Ben Alis family can most easily be understood in terms of two major lineages: children and in-laws from his first wife, Naima Kefi, and the relatives of his present wife, Leila Trabelsi. Ben Ali has three daughters with Kefi: Ghaouna, Dorsaf, and Cyrine (married respectively to Slim Zarrouk, Slim Chiboub, and Marouene Mabrouk; each of whom is a significant economic actor). Ben Ali also has three children with current wife, Leila: Nesrine (19), Halima (13), and Mohamed Zine el Abidine (1). Ben Ali has seven siblings, while wife Leila is believed to have ten, the most notorious of whom is her brother, Belhassen Trabelsi. In addition to these direct family members, there is a variety of other key actors who are believed to be successful due to their marriage ties to the Ben Alis or Trabelsis.
4. (C/NF) The Familys financial interests involve a sharing or spreading of wealth that has a geographic dimension: the First Ladys side is believed to dominate the greater Tunis region; the Presidents side exercises more power in the central coastal region where he was born. While this division is relevant in the business world, observers also believe that Leilas growing influence and interests may at times conflict with Ben Alis political plans. Senior officials are often rumored to be "Trabelsi-supported" or "Ben Ali-backed," with few believed to be favored by both the President and First Lady.
5. (C/NF) The following is an overview of the key family members and their business holdings. While some of the firms mentioned below are publicly known to be owned by specific family members, other business activities remain unconfirmed, as those directly involved are unwilling or unable to share the details. Average Tunisians have many stories about who owns what and how they acquired it, however, evidence is almost always unavailable and specifics vary depending on who is telling the story. As in many countries, it is also believed that family members register new holdings in the names of their children, friends or other contacts in order to restrict the knowledge of their activities. Given these limitations, post has attempted to provide as complete and as accurate a compilation as possible.
I. Ben Alis Relations -----------------------
6. (C/NF) Presidential siblings: President Ben Ali has seven siblings: Moncef, Houria, Hayet, Slaheddine, Tijani, Naima, and Najet. Prior to his death in 1996, Moncef Ben Ali was a known drug trafficker and black market trader. An international arrest warrant was issued for his arrest in France in 1992 and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison in absentia. Moncef has two children, son Sofiane (married to
Hedi Djilanis daughter, see para 15) and a daughter. Sofiane is the local partner of international duty free services Weitnauer Group, operating concessions at Tunisian airports. Houria has three sons: Ajmi, Hichem, and Mohamed Frej Daous: Ajmi and Hichem both run hotels in Sousse; Mohamed is a former governor of Tunisia,s Central Bank. Family members also head the Northern Sousse Development Society (Societe de Developpement de Sousse Nord).
7. (C/NF) Ben Ali,s sister Hayet is based in Germany but owns hotels and property in the Sousse region; she has three sons: Mehdi, Hamed, and Doraid. Mehdi was the former Environment Minister, Hamed is a Presidential Advisor, and Doraid imports automobiles. Brother Slaheddine has one son, Kais, and together they import used clothing and scrap metal, trade in luxury cars, and are allegedly involved in the black market alcohol trade. They also own the real estate firm Societe Immobiliere Monia and the Adam Park (a theme park in the Sousse area). Brother Tijani is CEO of the Societe Minerva Immobiliere, another real estate development company, and is a key shareholder in Aero-Travel, an airport services company. Sister Naima and family are involved in the luxury car market. Sister Najet is married to Sadok MHiri; together, they have two sons Neji and Dhafrallah. Family holdings include Societe El Almana Import/Export, Meublatex group, Les Metiers, Meubles Modulaires, Panabois, Profilex, Le Matelas, Polymeuble, Ste. Tiossage, Panoverre, Mouradi Hotel Chain, Karthago Airlines (shareholders), and Deternet. Dhafrallah was former head of Agence Tunisienne dInternet and director general of TunisAir.
II. First Lady,s Family ------------------------
8. (C/NF) First Lady Leila (Trabelsi) Ben Ali has ten known siblings, including Belhassen, Imed, Moncef, Bdiri, Jelila, Adel, and Mourad. Other prominent relatives include her mother, Hajja Nana, considered the "doyenne" of the family, and niece Lilia Nacef. While President Ben Alis family is known to have active business interests, Tunisians complain most bitterly about the Trabelsi familys extended reach in commercial circles. Additionally, elite Tunisians complain that the Trabelsis are a largely uneducated lot that exploit the country for their own benefit, while engaging in conspicuous consumption that the Tunisian elite has traditionally avoided. The disgust over the Trabelsis public activities only contributes to rumors about their alleged activities, and most major commercial decisions are believed to be influenced by the Trabelsis. For example, when Dubai Holdings recently won a major contract for a southern Tunis waterfront development, rumors about Trabelsi ties to Dubai Holdings immediately began to circulate.
9. (C/NF) Brother Belhassen Trabelsi is considered to be the most notorious, corrupt and prominent of Leilas family members. In fact, he represents the epitome of what Tunisians hate about the Trabelsis. If only half the rumors about him are true, one would wonder where he found the time to be such a heartless, voracious monster. In any case, that is certainly how he is depicted by Tunisians discussing corruption. (text removed by Aftenposten)s neighbor, (text removed by Aftenposten), identified three palatial dwellings within 300 meters of (text removed by Aftenposten)residence in Carthage that she claims were taken from their owners by Trabelsi (who reportedly just tells people he is buying their property and for how much). All three are undergoing major renovations that include significant expansion of the buildings footprint, generally forbidden by the Carthage historic areas strict zoning regulations. Every sighting of a Porsche Cayenne, Bentley, or Hummer zooming down the road or running a red light becomes a Belhassen sighting (even though others are also known to own these rare-in-Tunisia vehicles). There are even stories of Belhassen entering restaurants and overtly laying a pistol on the table-- in gun-free Tunisia.
10. (C/NF) Trabelis publicly known investments include: Karthago Airlines; Karthago Travel Services; Karthago Hotel; Aviation Training Center of Tunisia; Global Telecom Networking; Alpha Ford International (created following the privatization of Autotractor); Compagnie Mediterraneenne DEtudes et de Realisations Touristiques (COMMERT); Societe de Promotion Touristique et de Plaisance; Societe DInvestissement dans les Loisors et Tourism (SILT - SICAF); Alpha Bus Tunisie; Societe dEtudes des Realisations Touristiques; Societe de Promotion Hoteliere Khamsa; Societe
des Services Nationaux et des Residences (SNR); Societe Gammarth Immobiliere. He is also believed to be unscrupulous in his business dealings and to be willing to utilize bribery, extortion and otherwise manipulate the market to his advantage. For example, it is reported that the local Citroen dealership attracted Trabelsis attention. Unwilling to grant him ownership concessions, Citroen is reportedly paying Trabelsi directly in order to continue operations. Despite this, local business contacts report that President Ben Ali considers Belhassen Trabelsi "a very successful businessman" and meets often with him. Most recently, Trabelsi is in talks with Egypts commercial giant Orascom about expanding Karthago into Egypt as a joint venture.
11. (C/NF) Other Leila siblings are Imed (controlling Societe Univers Carriers) and Moncef (owner of SOTRAMA - Societe Trabelsi de Marbre Artificiel). There is also a favored niece, Lilia Nacef, married to Mourad Mahdoui, and together they run Societe lOpera de Culture, Sport et Loisirs, which has an 80-year lease on four hectares in Belvedere Park to develop an amusement park and they also run Bien Vu, an advertising company. Other lesser known Trabelsis include Bdiri, Jelila, Adel, and Mourad, and their companies include: Societe de Promotion Immobiliere Dar Mabrouka; Societe de Promotion Immobiliere Dar Essaada; Societe de Mise en Valeur et de Developpment Agricole El Kaouther; 3E Services (Societe dExploitation des Eraux et de lEnvironment Services); Societe Agricole Essania; and Societe Tunisienne dEmballage de Jus.
III. Sons-in-Law: ------------------
12. (C/NF) Slim Zarrouk: Slim, husband of Ben Ali daughter Ghaouna, created his first business, Plastec, in 1982 to manufacture plastic products. He later acquired state-owned La Ceramique in one of Tunisia,s first privatizations. La Ceramique,s assets include significant holdings and two board seats at SOTETEL, which produces telecommunications equipment and was spun off from Tunisie Telecom (the national telecommunications monopoly). In September 2003, Plastec launched a major venture with Plastiques de Val du Loire (PVL) to build a factory in Sousse, producing plastic automobile, telephone, and household component equipment. This new company is called Tunisie Plastiques Systemes (TPS). Zarrouk,s other holdings include: Mediterranean Air Service, MEDINVEST, MEDSOFT, Nortene Tunisie, and SMVDA Domaine Neferis.
13. (C/NF) Slim Chiboub: This Slim is married to Ben Ali,s second daughter, Dorsaf. Chiboub is also the nephew of well-known businessman, Taoufik Chaibi, whose interests include advertising, sports franchises, retail distribution, and trading. Chiboub is known for using shell companies, particularly through the Mzabi family (see para 16) to promote his business interests. Until recently, Chiboub was the head of a major sports club (and current Tunisian soccer league champion), Esperance, but was reportedly relieved of that position by President for unknown reasons.
14. (C/NF) Marouene Mabrouk: Marouene is married to Ben Ali,s youngest daughter, Cyrine. The Mabrouk family is a prominent Tunisian business family with business successes that predate Marouene,s marriage into the Ben Ali family. The Mabrouks hold shares in Banque de Tunisie and own major confectionery companies, including Societe Tunisienne de Chocolaterie and SOTUBI (biscuits). Marouene and Cyrine established Planet Tunisie, the countrys first private Internet service provider. Marouene,s additional interests include: Medis (Monoprix and Touta grocery chains); a major shopping complex; Mercedes-Fiat dealership; Industries Alimentaires de Tunisie; and Investment et Developpment Mecanique. The greater Mabrouk family also has significant holdings in oil services, the Compagnie de Promotion Immobliere et Touristique, Compagnie des Golfs Internationaux de Tunisie, Mediterraneene de Distribution et de Commerce, Maghreb Invest, and Essanabel SMVDA.
IV. Extended "Family" Members ------------------------------
15. (C/NF) Hedi Djilani: Hedi Djilani, the current president of the Tunisian Employers Association for Commerce, Industry, and Handicrafts (UTICA, the national employers, association), is one of the few Tunisians related (by
marriage) to both sides of the Presidents family. Djilanis elder daughter is married to Belhassen Trabelsi; his younger daughter is married to one of the Presidents nephews, Sofiane Ben Ali. Djilani acquired his wealth initially by inheritance, but has since acquired business interests including Lee Cooper, Financiere Tunisienne, TISSBEL, Les Pages Jaunes, Immobiliere Echarifa, Hygiene and Sante, MAT SA, Manufacture Tunisienne dExploitation Industrielle, Societe Connexion Trust, and Hannibal Lease. Djilani,s brother, Lamine, is Assistant General Manager for the Middle East and North Africa at Arab Banking Corporation, New York.
16. (C/NF) The Mzabi Family: This family has been associated with Slim Chibboub and its family members include Sadok, Mzoughi, Hedi, Fathi, and Najib. Their holdings are numerous, including: Renault; SODEXHO (catering company); Minoterie de la Soukra; Tanneries Megisseries du Maghreb; Tannerie de la Mornaguia; Manufacture Tunisienne de Chaussures; Societe Immobliere du Maghreb; Meghreb Motors; Atlas Motors; Atlas Pompes; Ateliers Mecaniques Maghrebines; Dalmas; COTTAM; Compagnie Tunisienne des Fournitures; Maghreb Commercial; Royal Garden Palace; Palm Azur; Carthago Oil Company of Tunisia; Land Rover; Societe d,Etude et d,Exploitation Tourisitque; INFOCOM; Societe Arab Technic Water; Societe Alliance Immobiliere; ARTES; AUTRONIC; Societe Touristique Gibraltar; SOMET; and Sabrine (mineral water company).
17. (C/NF) COMMENT: While the facts and rumors of the Familys commercial holdings are extensive, few Tunisians can offer any evidence of President Ben Alis personal corruption. In fact, public opinion is often more sympathetic to the President than to the seemingly ever-growing extended clan of brothers- and sons-in-law. A popular joke tells of President Ben Ali being stopped by a traffic cop when out for a drive by himself. Ben Ali explains he is the President, Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, but the cop says "Never heard of you," and takes Ben Ali to the police station. The station chief looks at Ben Alis identification card and says, "Its okay. Hes related to the Trabelsis." The joke outlines what most Tunisians feel today: compared to the strength and depth of the Trabelsi familys grip on Tunisia, Ben Ali is inconsequential. While this may be pure speculation or wishful thinking, the fact remains that the alleged corruption of Ben Alis family is increasingly becoming a political and economic force that must be addressed. END COMMENT. HUDSON