TUNIS (Reuters) - The Tunisian state will recover all shares, real estate and other assets belonging to the family of ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, a government minister told Reuters on Thursday.
Industry and Technology Minister Mohamed Afif Chelbi also said Tunisia’s long-standing policy of being open to investment would not change, and that the local operations of foreign firms were now getting back to normal.
A wave of unrest forced Ben Ali, in power for over 23 years, to flee to Saudi Arabia last week.
Tunisia’s new coalition government has announced an investigation into how relatives of Ben Ali and his wife accumulated substantial business interests.
“What is clear is that the state will recover all the assets belonging to the family,” Chelbi told Reuters.
“The state is recovering all the assets, whether they are shares in (companies’) equity or real estate assets ... and will ensure, of course, in one form or another, the management of these companies.”
He would not say if this would amount to a nationalization of the assets, of if they would later be privatized.
Chelbi was a government minister under the old administration but said unlike others in the cabinet he was never a member of Ben Ali’s RCD party, the focus of anger for protesters who want a clean break with the past.
Despite Ben Ali’s authoritarian rule, Tunisia has been one of the region’s most open economies, attracting steady interest from foreign investors.
Chelbi said this would not change.
“I think Tunisia has a policy which has always been very clear, which is a policy open to investment,” he said. “I think this is a constant which has made Tunisia a place today of investment and technology. It is a fixed point which characterizes Tunisia,” he added.
“Our main preoccupation is to create more businesses to create jobs and to be more attractive for national and international investment. This is a clear and firm direction.”
After Ben Ali’s departure there were several days of looting and lawlessness which prompted some major foreign companies to pull out their expatriate staff. The minister said those executives would be returning in the next few days.
“The message that I address to companies and investors is one of confidence,” Chelbi said.
Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Giles Elgood