Tunisia Detains Ex-Presidential Contender Amid Graft Claims

Tunisian media mogul and former presidential candidate Nabil Karoui was detained after a judge’s order, his lawyer said, amid an ongoing purge of alleged corruption that’s included the arrest of a government minister.

Karoui, who founded Heart of Tunisia, the second-biggest party in both the government coalition and parliament, had been in court in connection with graft and money laundering allegations filed before his failed presidential bid last year. The judge hearing the case issued the new detention order, the state-run TAP news agency reported Thursday.

Karoui’s lawyer, Nazih Saoui, later told local broadcaster Diwan FM that the tycoon was detained, blaming unspecified political pressures. Sadok Jabnoun, spokesperson for Heart of Tunisia, didn’t answer calls seeking comment.

The 57-year-old’s detention comes amid mounting calls for action against alleged graft in a country where an economic revival since the ouster of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali a decade ago has been stymied by political infighting.

A scandal involving the importation of medical and household trash from Italy led this month to the dismissal and arrest of Environment Minister Mustapha Laroui. Another 11 officials were taken into custody.

That purge “suggests that the judiciary has recently freed itself from the authority of politicians and that a real change is beginning to emerge,” political analyst Jihad Elhadj Salem said in an interview.

Karoui emerged as a key challenger in last year’s presidential race, appealing to the North African country’s poorest. He came second to Kais Saied -- a constitutional law expert who was presented as a candidate largely separate from the political establishment widely blamed by Tunisians for the lack of progress since their uprising sparked the region’s Arab Spring revolts.

Karoui had been detained before on accusations of tax evasion and money laundering dating back to 2016. At the time of the election, his party had denied the allegations, saying they were politically motivated and an attempt to discredit him.

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