Tunisia’s Leading Presidential Candidate Arrested

  • Nabil Karoui, president of the Qalb Tounes party ("At the heart of Tunisia") is deemed a top contender for President against incumbent Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
  • "About 15 police cars blocked the road and rushed to Nabil Karoui's car before armed civilian police asked him to come with them, saying they had instructions to arrest him."
  • The forthcoming presidential election follows the death of Béji Caïd Essebsi, who in 2014 became the first democratically elected president in Tunisia's history.

Less than a month before presidential elections in Tunisia, one of the country’s leading candidates, businessman Nabil Karoui, was arrested on Friday, accused of money laundering. The arrest seriously jeopardizes his chances of ascending to the nation’s presidency. At the same time, a television channel that he owns, Nessma TV, one of the country’s favorite television channels, was banned from covering the electoral campaigns by the authorities.

Karoui, president of the Qalb Tounes party (“At the heart of Tunisia”), is deemed a top contender, and analysts believe he is the one most likely to give the country’s current prime minister, Youssef Chahed, Tahya Tounes (“Long Live Tunisia”) party candidate, a run for his money.

Presidential elections will be held in Tunisia on September 15. If none of the 26 candidates receive a majority, a second round will be held no later than November 3. Elections were moved up from November 17 and 24 upon the death of incumbent President Beji Caid Essebsi.

“About 15 police cars blocked the road and rushed to Nabil Karoui’s car before armed civilian police asked him to come with them, saying they had instructions to arrest him,” said Oussama Khlifi of the mogul’s Qalb Tounes party. “It was an abduction and not an arrest,” he added, adding that Karoui had returned from Beja (in northwest Tunisia) where he had opened a new party office.

In a statement, the Interior Ministry confirmed the arrest. “In execution of a warrant issued by one of the Tunis Appeal Courts against Nabil Karoui, a team of the National Security Administration arrested him,” it said. Nabil Karoui was taken to Mornaguia prison near Tunis, the statement said.

Nabil and Ghazi Karoui are targeted by a judicial investigation since 2017, after the filing by the anti-corruption NGO I-Watch of a case accusing him of tax evasion. On July 8, they were charged with “money laundering,” according to the spokesperson of the judicial financial division, Sofiene Sliti. On Friday, the authorities in charge of audiovisual control (Haica) and elections in Tunisia (Isie) decided to ban three media outlets allegedly operating in the country illegally, including Nessma TV, from covering the election campaigns.

“Presidential candidates are not allowed to run their election campaigns through those channels that do not have a license and transmit illegally,” Haifa president Nouri Lajmi told the media.

Nessma TV (“Breeze”) is a commercial TV channel located in Tunisia. It broadcasts to Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, and Mauritania. The TV channel was launched on March 16, 2007, by Nabil and Ghazi Karoui in partnership with Tarak Ben Ammar and Silvio Berlusconi.

Karoui recently complained that the country’s current government was targeting him, owing to his growing popularity. Many Tunisian political analysts have opined that his candidacy is undoubtedly worrying the country’s current regime.

Karoui is very appealing to the country’s lower class, having built a charitable image thanks to his distribution of goods across the country, under the watchful eyes of Nessma TV cameras. The channel broadcasts every day “Khalil Tounes,” a charity show where he is seen traversing the country listening to the grievances of the poor and offering them a helping hand.

The forthcoming Tunisian presidential election follows the death of Béji Caïd Essebsi, who in 2014 became the first democratically elected president in Tunisia’s history.

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Vincent Ferdinand

News reporting is my thing. My view of what is happening in our world is colored by my love of history and how the past influences events taking place in the present time.  I like reading politics and writing articles. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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