TUNISIA - FRANCE

Botzarileaks: How French public funds were funnelled to Ben Ali party

 As new information emerges in the "Botzarileaks scandal", FRANCE 24 has discovered that the party of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali benefited from thousands of euros in French public funds.

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Exterior of 36 rue Botzaris. Photo by Perrine Mouterde.

 

As new information emerges in the "Botzarileaks scandal", FRANCE 24 has discovered that the party of former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali benefited from thousands of euros in French public funds.

 

On paper, 36 rue Botzaris, in north-east Paris, was the official address of an organisation known as the Rassemblement des Tunisiens en France (RTF, or the Assembly of Tunisians in France). Yet documents recovered from the RTF headquarters reveal that the non-profit organisation was no more than a window onto France for the Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD), Ben Ali's former hegemonic party. Even the heading on the RTF’s stationary testifies to the organisation's duplicity. Its French name is directly translated into Arabic as the Constitutional Democratic Rally, Central Committee of France, and is even stamped with the RCD logo.

 

RTF stationary heading.

 

This smokescreen proved to be an excellent way for the RCD to gain access to public funding that a foreign political entity would otherwise be ineligible for. In May 1994, for example, the RTF was informed in a letter that it had been granted a subsidy of 110,000 French francs (16,920 euros) by the Commission for the Integration of Immigrant Populations (CRIPI) in the Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur region.

 

The same year, the mayor of the city of Marseille, Robert Vigouroux, donated a total of 80,000 French francs (11,510 euros) to the organisation to be used for “social urban development,” according to a letter sent from the mayor’s office.

 

Both sums went directly into the RCD’s pockets.

 

Letter confirming a financial contribution to the RTF by the Commission for the Integration of Immigrant Populations (CRIPI) in the Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur region.

 

 

Letter from Robert Vigouroux, the former mayor of Marseille, confirming the donation of 80,000 French francs (11,510 euros) to the RTF.

 

Neither the regional authorities nor the mayor’s office in Marseille returned calls for comments on contributions made to the RTF before this article was published.

 

These documents prove that Ben Ali’s RCD party was able to extort funds from at least two public bodies in southern France through its front as a Paris-based non-profit. It remains to be determined whether these public organisations were simply manipulated by the RCD or whether, as sources close to the Tunisian embassy tell FRANCE 24, they knowingly funnelled money through 36 rue Botzaris into the hands of Ben Ali’s regime.

 

 

Article written with FRANCE 24 journalist Sarra Grira.