Dismissal of anti-corruption chief renews political tensions in Tunisia

Analysts expect the president will block the swearing-in of Imed Ben Taleb, the new head of INLUCC, and thus leave him indifinitely in legal limbo.
Wednesday 09/06/2021
President Kais Saied receives Imed Boukhris, dismissed head of INLUCC, Monday. (Tunisian Presidency)
President Kais Saied receives Imed Boukhris, dismissed head of INLUCC, Monday. (Tunisian Presidency)

TUNIS – Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem el-Mechichi’s firing of Imed Boukhris, President of the National Anti-Corruption Authority (INLUCC)  has sparked widespread controversy on the political scene, prompting President Kais Saied to intervene and reject the decision, in the latest round of the tensions between the two heads of the executive authority in Tunisia.

Boukhris, who was appointed to head INLUCC in August 2020, “will be assigned other duties,” said a statement from the prime minister.

Saied criticised on Monday the non-compliance with the law in the dismissal of Boukhris, hours after the prime ministry announced the decision and appointed of Imed Ben Taleb to the post.

Other jurists concurred with Saied that the appointment is against the provisions of the law, saying the prime minister does not have the power to dismiss the anti-corruption chief or to appoint a replacement.

Analysts exprect the president to block Taleb’s swearing-in as the new head of INLUCC,  thus leave him indifinitely in legal limbo.

Saied, who received Boukhris, considered that the dismissal “has been expected” after the INLUCC’s president made corruption allegations against ministers appointed by Mechichi in his January cabinet reshuffle, whose swearing-in has also been blocked by the president.

“Documents confirm that these people are involved in corruption, although some cases have not yet been brought to court,” the president said.

“They fight against those who combat corruption. Which fight are they talking about?” he added, observing that corruption cannot be countered with the mechanisms that they themselves had set up to conceal certain files.

Boukhris himself briefed the Tunisian president on all “the difficulties” he faced and the “real reasons” that led to his dismissal, as well as the legal provisions that were ignored in the decision to  dismiss him.

Tunisian non-governmental organisation  I Watch also criticised the “suspicious” appointment of Imed Ben Taleb, recalling that it had filed a lawsuit against him in 2020 for undermining the public administration, violating regulations and concealing violations.

The organisation accused Mechichi of always appointing people “under suspicion” to sensitive positions in order to serve his own interests or those of other sides, calling on him to reconsider his decision.

Imed Ben Taleb, a third degree judge, held several positions at the Tunis Court of First Instance and the Land Court.

He was first investigating judge for three years at the Economic and Financial Judiciary Division.

Since January 2018, he has been President of the Confiscation Commission.

The dismissal of the head of INLUCC will likely escalate tensions between the two heads of the executive authority in Tunisia, where a power struggle has been raging since the announcement of a cabinet reshuffle by Mechichi last January.

Saied has since rejected the reshuffle, insisting he would not allow the swearing-in of any ministers suspected of corruption.  The stand-off  has subsequently led to political tensions between the presidency and parliament, headed by Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the Islamist Ennahda Movement.

The decision to dismiss Boukhris has sparked widespread controversy, with some political and social players accusing Mechichi of covering up corruption cases. Critics  claimed that a number of investigations involve influential figures loyal to the Ennahda-led political group supporting the premier.

Badreddine al-Gamoudi, Chairman of the Committee of Administrative Reform and Management of Public Funds, criticised the premier, considering that Boukhris’ dismissal is a “sign and blatant evidence” that corruption in Tunisia is being protected by the political authority.

Gamoudi added in a Facebook post that “this man (Boukhris) sincerely tried to open the cases on some big crooks in Tunisia.”

“His dismissal will remain a mark of disgrace on the forehead of those who decided it,” Gamoudi said, noting that he will reveal all the details about the reasons for Boukhris’ dismissal.

Karim Krifa, an MP with the Free Constitutional Party, considered that Boukhris was fired in order to prevent the opening of corruption cases involving people he called “friends of Prime Minister Hichem el-Mechichi and supporters of the Muslim Brothers”, in reference to the Islamist Ennahda Movement.

The Assistant Secretary-General of the Tunisian General Labour Union Sami Tahiri also criticised the ouster of Boukhris. He noted the move, which was taken “without any justification, can only be the fruit of pressure.”

“The lobbies are controlling everything,” he said.

Earlier in March, Boukhris revealed that the Anti-Corruption Authority was dealing with a very serious corruption case, the details of which would soon be revealed.  He noted the investigation involved influential figures and would be referred to the judiciary. Boukhris, however, refused to disclose more details about the case because of the confidentiality of the investigation.