Tunisia: Belhassen Trabelsi Has Diverted Millions of Dinars Through Offshore and Shell Companies
Tunis, — The process of returning Tunisian property and assets frozen in a number of foreign banks in general and in Switzerland, in particular, has not moved an inch.
More than four years have elapsed since the fall of former President Ben Ali without any hope of progress on the horizon in dismantling a sprawling network of economic and financial corruption.
Countless cases related to this file remain blocked at the level of investigation, and this notwithstanding the international warrants issued by the Tunisian authorities to disclose and accordingly recover Tunisian property and assets placed in foreign banks.
Thus, 57 international warrants have been issued to this effect in 2011, the latest one directed by Tunisian judicial authorities to their Swiss counterparts to investigate the accounts mentioned in the case known as “Swiss Leaks.”
In that case, a subsidiary of famous Swiss bank “HSBC” is to be blamed for knowingly made available to its customers a fraud scheme allowing to benefit in total impunity of tax evasion by using “shell companies”, mostly located in tax havens.
This case has greatly discredited the Swiss banking system and undermined its image. It has also revealed the existence of a sprawling network of agents operating in this bank and deployed across 203 countries.
For information, Tunisia is ranked 59th in terms of volume of financial transactions made on accounts of that bank.
With the assistance of the network Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), TAP has managed to find the list of names of personalities having alleged links with Tunisia, foremost among these is Belhassen Trabelsi, brother-in-law of the former president.
This list reveals the names of people whose links with Tunisia have been established in accordance with nationality requirements, place of birth, residence or business and who hold 679 bank accounts belonging to 256 customers.
The same list revealed 230 bank current accounts containing funds belonging to 142 people and 32 non-resident companies, according to investigations conducted by the French authorities about this bank.
The goal of these investigations is to rule on suspicion of money laundering, tax evasion, illegal enrichment and bank fraud committed during the period extending from November 9, 2006 to March 31, 2007.
After investigation, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has managed to unveil a total of $ 544 million lodged in accounts tied to Tunisia.
Names and assets hiding a very multi-faceted corruption besides names often relayed in the Tunisian media, other famous personalities, including businessmen, celebrities and five members from the families of former president Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi appear on list ties to Tunisia (according to criteria of birth or residence in Tunisia or Tunisian nationality), other personalities fame, including businessmen, celebrities and
five members from the families former President Ben Ali and his wife Leila Trabelsi.
These personalities are businessmen, journalists, pharmacy students, housewives, retirees, merchants, jewellers, lawyers, bank officials, doctors and diamond brokers.
Among the main customers who reaped the best benefits provided by this bank a number of people close to the former regime on whom the Swiss Federal Council took a series of coercive measures to freeze their assets and economic resources, including in the first place, Belhassen travels, brother of Leila Ben Ali.
Residing in Canada and currently being prosecuted in Tunisia, Belhassen Trabelsi is also a co-shareholder in the capital of company “Zenade Resources Limited”.
The largest sum placed in Trabelsi’s account, which was opened on June 22, 2006, is estimated at 22,083,648 dollars, while the largest amount paid in the accounts of “Zenade Resources,” owned by Belhassen Trabelsi is worth of 2,837,034 dollars.
The records collected in this context suggests an established link between the bank accounts of Belhassen Trabelsi and two deposits made in the name of “Kaffal Trust” and “The Kassar Trust”, without any indication or details about them.
In addition, close monitoring of the traceability of accounts of Belhassen Trabelsi concluded to an alleged link between the brother-in-law of the former president and Swiss lawyer and representative of the company “Zenade Resources Limited” Elie Lindenfeld. The latter holds an account domiciled in “HSBC” bank under which financial transactions were made with Belhassen travels and the aforementioned company.
According to the documents available to us, the address of the original owner of the bank account with the name of Belhassen Trabelsi at the opening of these accounts is located at 8 bis rue Mustapha Sfar 1002 Belvedere-Tunis and Fattouma Bourguiba-Soukra, Tunis.
Hence the following observation: at the opening of this bank account, the place of residence and economic activity of Belhassen Trabelsi was indeed in Tunisia, which suggests a clear violation of the Tunisian legislation governing the opening accounts abroad and transfer of funds for their benefit.
Shell companies established in tax havens behind misappropriation of funds
For the purpose of supplying the resources of its accounts domiciled in the Swiss bank and several Arab and European countries, Belhassen Trabelsi has used the malicious technique of shell companies. Reflecting these scams is the case of accounts opened by Belhassen Trabelsi at the subsidiary on SBC bank’s secret accounts.
Thus only by means of complex operations, carried out through a broker that Belhassen Trabelsi launched two shell companies, in this case “Zenade Resources Limited” and “Zenade Finance Limited”.
According to the Listing posted on its website, that broker has the company name “MAC SA”, owned by Kuwaiti group “Al Kharafi” represented in Tunisia by the financial investment firm “AL MAL investment Company “(with a rate of 80% of capital) and Mourad Ben Shaaban.
Belhassen Trabelsi created in the first place the company “Zenade Resources Limited” dated April 12, 1999 before launching, later, the company “Zenade Finance Limited” on September 15, 1999, with same address in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.
It appears from delegation documents held by the National Investigation Commission on cases of Corruption and Embezzlement, as mentioned in its report of 2012 (pp.206-211), these two companies are represented in Tunisia by Belhassen Trabelsi under a delegation signed in due form by the administrator of both companies and the representative of the law firm in Switzerland, Lindenfeld Elijah.
According to the same commission, former President Ben Ali would be the owner of the company “Zenade Resources Limited”. This is evidenced by the statement written with his own hand in French and reading “We become owners of 100% of the company’s capital”.
The same commission tends to believe that the former president is also the owner of the company “Zenade Finance Limited” because of the resemblance of the name of both companies.
For the inquiry commission, the former president arbitrarily used his position and his power to set up two companies to divert assets and property abroad through acquisitions and sale of securities in companies belonging to his family members.
This finding was corroborated by the president of the Tunisian Association of Transparency and anti-Corruption Sami Remadi.
After field research, no trace of the two companies was found, supporting the thesis of shell companies that lack any real legal existence, used for purposes of financial corruption and tax evasion.
Sale of companies to shell companies owned by Belhassen Trabelsi and embezzlement of millions of dollars abroad
Holding a stake in the company “Etudes et realisation touristique” (102,200 shares), representing a total value of nearly one million 139 thousand dinars that have not been effectively transferred to Tunisian banks , the shell company “Zenade Resources Limited” has taken advantage of the benefits of its stake in the company during the years 2005, 2006 and 2007.
The product of this participation is estimated at 1 million 898 thousand and 328 dinars, 625 thousand 750 dinars and 1 million 666 thousand 759 dinars, respectively, all transferred under a license No. 603178 dated August 21, 2006 from the Governor of the Central Bank at the time (Taoufik Baccar) in favour of the account of the company domiciled in the Swiss bank without reference to the investment file relating to the acquisition of equity securities.
In addition to his account at the Swiss bank HSBC, Belhassen Trabelsi has other bank accounts in many European and Arab countries, like his account at the BNP Paribas Fortis subsidiary Porte de Namur in Brussels, his account at the Arab Bank in Dubai and a joint account with his father at Barclays Wealth in Switzerland.
Add to this another account domiciled in one of the banks based in the Middle East and another account at the Emirati International Bank headquartered in Dubai, according to investigations conducted by the national investigation commission on corruption and embezzlement cases.
It should be noted that the commission had applied on May 18 and June 2, 2011 to the Public Prosecutor to hand over the files in question, accompanied by supporting documents and evidence.
Since February 2015, “Swiss leaks” has continued to heat debates on the Internet and was source of concern to the international public opinion in what is commonly accepted as the biggest scandal of financial corruption and tax evasion in the contemporary world.
Regarding the “Tunisian” component of this case, it is the responsibility of the financial judicial centre that issued an international warrant as part of cooperation with the Swiss party, Judge Special Adviser to the Minister of Justice, Faisal Ajina told TAP.
The judge added that “a criminal investigation was opened against anyone whose involvement is proved by investigations for charges related to money laundering and exchange crimes.
Judge Faisal Ajina refrained from any comment or detail on these accounts, their holders, the amounts of their respective balances as well as the tax evasion product that resulted from them, because of “secret investigations,” as he put it, a reason that recurs like a leitmotif.