Tunisia presidential candidate charged with money laundering

Media magnate Nabil Karoui has been banned from travelling and his assets have been frozen

A picture taken on May 21, 2018, shows traditional woven hats, known as Chechia, on display at a store in Tunis on May 21, 2018.  / AFP / FETHI BELAID

Tunisian media magnate and would-be presidential candidate Nabil Karoui has been charged with money laundering, slapped with a travel ban and had his assets frozen.

Mr Karoui and his brother, Ghazi Karoui, have been under investigation since 2017 after anti-corruption watchdog I Watch submitted a dossier accusing him of tax fraud, Sofiene Sliti, spokesman for the judiciary department for financial cases, said on Monday.

“After an inquiry into the complaint filed by I Watch and having summoned and heard the two men … the judge decided 10 days ago to charge Nabil Karoui and Ghazi Karoui with money laundering,” Mr Sliti told Agence France-Presse.

The judge also decided to freeze their assets and ban them from travelling abroad, Mr Sliti said, ruling out any political motives for the rulings.

But Nabil Karoui’s recently formed political party, Heart of Tunisia, condemned the decision as a “vain attempt to damage the party and its president and to question his growing popularity”.

The brothers launched Karoui & Karoui, an international media and advertising company, in 2002.

Nabil Karoui was an active supporter of President Beji Caid Essebsi’s election in 2014 but has become a fierce opponent of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.

In May, Mr Karoui, who also founded a major private television channel, Nessma, said he would run for the presidency in November polls to succeed Mr Essebsi.

But amendments to the electoral law passed the following month would rule out his candidacy.

He has spent two years fronting a daily show on his TV station, named Khalil Tounes in honour of his son who passed away in a car crash, but is to give the reins to an 82-year-old actress while he bids to become president.

He had pledged to purchase a bus and tour Tunisia to visit the most economically deprived areas of the country.

The current president, Mr Essebsi, recently suffered a serious illness. He was rushed to a military hospital before being discharged last week. A video later showed him signing a decree to authorise elections in October and November.

He won office in 2014, in the wake of the country's 2011 uprising that toppled leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

He recently announced he wouldn't run in the November election, saying a younger person should lead the country.