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01.10.2019 Tunisia

Tunisia court rejects release of presidential runner: lawyer

By AFP
Tunisian presidential candidate Nabil Karoui, arrested on money laundering charges, is to stay behind bars after a third appeal for his release was turned down.  By FETHI BELAID (AFP/File)
OCT 1, 2019 TUNISIA
Tunisian presidential candidate Nabil Karoui, arrested on money laundering charges, is to stay behind bars after a third appeal for his release was turned down. By FETHI BELAID (AFP/File)

Tunisia's court of appeal rejected on Tuesday a fresh request to release jailed media mogul and presidential candidate Nabil Karoui, one of his lawyers said, less than two weeks before the runoff.

"Unfortunately the indictment chamber... refused the release request," lawyer Kamel Ben Messoud told AFP, adding that he planned on meeting Karoui's other lawyers to decide their next move.

A leader in Karoui's Qalb Tounes party, Oussama Khlifi, told local media: "We don't doubt justice, but this catastrophe and charade continues, and threatens the democratic process."

The 56-year-old, who has been under investigation since 2017 for money laundering and tax evasion, was placed in pre-trial detention on August 23 and subsequent applications to release him have been denied.

The timing of his arrest, 10 days before the start of campaigning, has raised questions about the politicisation of the judicial process.

In July, an investigating judge froze the assets of Karoui and his brother Ghazi, and imposed a travel ban.

When Karoui appealed against those decisions, the indictment chamber issued an arrest warrant, and he was detained at a motorway tollbooth after an election visit.

Despite the legal proceedings, Karoui's candidacy was approved by the elections commission ISIE and he campaigned via the Nessma television channel he founded and through his wife Salwa Smaoui.

After the first round of voting on September 15, independent law professor Kais Saied led with 18.4 percent of votes, according to ISIE, with Karoui in second with 15.6 percent.

Karoui's party, alongside ISIE, international observers and various politicians have called for the jailed candidate to be allowed to campaign fairly ahead of the second round, expected on October 13.

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