Tunisian party leader Nabil Karoui in hospital after hunger strike

Former presidential candidate is detained over money laundering and tax evasion allegations, which he claims are “politically driven”.

Saturday 05/06/2021
A file picture of detained Tunisian business tycoon Nabil Karoui. (AFP)
A file picture of detained Tunisian business tycoon Nabil Karoui. (AFP)

TUNIS - Tunisian media mogul and former presidential candidate Nabil Karoui has been hospitalised three days after launching a hunger strike protesting his continued pre-trial detention, a justice official said Tuesday.

“The doctor asked that Mr Karoui be transferred to hospital because of his state of health,” judicial official Mohsen Dali said.

Karoui’s lawyers had announced last Saturday that thier client will start a hunger strike in jail in protest over his continued “arbitrary detention despite the end of the legally mandated period of pre-trial custody,” his lawyers said Saturday.

Karoui, who he is detained over tax evasion and money laundering allegations, had come second in the 2019 presidential election behind current president Kais Saied.

Qalb Tounes lawmaker Oussama Khlifi told a news conference in parliament last month that Karoui was “hostage” to a “political ploy” and that his preventive detention since December exceeded the legal time by several weeks.

According to Tunisian law, suspects can be held in preventive detention for up to six months. A judge can extend the time but the suspect has a right to appeal.

Karoui’s party has led the second largest bloc in parliament after the October 2019 parliamentary elections and has since allied itself with Ennahdha party.  Qalb Tounes is part of Islamist-led parliamentary blocs that support the Hichem Mechichi government.

During his presidential election campaign that same year, Karoui spent more than a month in prison over money laundering and tax evasion charges stemming from a 2017 investigation.

He was arrested again in December 2020 over the same affair. Himself and his party supporters  have claimed his prosecution was “politically driven”.

“We call for the immediate liberation of Nabil Karoui and an end to political harassment and forced detention,” Khlifi told reporters.

Last April,  and in a separate case, a Tunisian court has ordered Karoui to pay a six million-euro fine for failing to pay customs dues, the prosecution said.

The case, opened in 2012, concerns “failure to make customs declarations on revenues from export operations”, Dali said, without giving details.

Karoui, 57, is the founder of private channel Nessma TV, partly owned by former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.