Tunisia seizes bank from ex-leader's family

TUNIS Thu Jan 20, 2011 4:44am EST

TUNIS Jan 20 (Reuters) - A bank owned by the son-in-law of deposed Tunisian leader Zine al-Abdine Ben Ali has been placed under the control of the central bank, Tunisian state TV said on Thursday.

Ziytouna Bank, Tunisia's first Islamic bank, started operating last year. It is owned by Sakher Materi, Tunisia's most prominent businessman despite being only in his early 30s. Materi's Princesse Holding contributed 51 percent of the $30 million starting capital.

"Ziytouna Bank has been placed under the supervision and monitoring of the central bank," the television reported.

The move comes a day after 33 of Ben Ali's clan were arrested for crimes against the nation. State television showed what it said was seized gold and jewellery. Switzerland has also frozen Ben Ali's family assets.

Tunisia's new leadership has said it will investigate those people who accumulated vast wealth under Ben Ali. That opens the way for a possible redistribution of assets, and causes potential headaches for foreign partners.

Now in Dubai, Materi has said he is ready to submit to any investigation by the new government.

His empire ranges from media to banking and telecoms.

Princesse Holding owns a share in mobile telephone operator Tunisiana. In November last year, it joined Qatar Telecom's QTEL.QA Kuwaiti unit Wataniya NMTC.KW in a consortium to buy Orascom Telecom's 50 percent stake in the operator.

Materi is also chairman of ENNAKL (NAKL.CS), a car retailer which sells the Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE), Audi, Seat and Porsche (PSHG_p.DE) brands. The firm listed 40 percent of its share capital on the Tunis and Casablanca stock exchanges last year.

His media interests include Assabah newspaper, Tunisia's biggest-circulation daily, and Islamic radio station Ziytouna FM.

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