Tunisian ex-leader, wife convicted in absentia

In this Oct.25 2009 file photo, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his wife Leila salute their supporters in the affluent Carthage neighborhood next to the capital, Tunis. Tunisians cheering a new era after the end of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's iron-fisted rule are especially overjoyed at the prospect of life with out his wife and her family - widely despised as the ultimate symbol of corruption and excess. (AP Photo/Alfred de Montesquiou, File) AP Photo

TUNIS, Tunisia - Tunisia's former ruler and his wife were convicted in absentia on embezzlement and other charges on Monday after $27 million (euro18.97 million) in jewels and public funds were found in one of his palaces.

They were sentenced to 35 years each in prison, and fined.

The conviction of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Leila Trabelsi followed a day-long trial before the Tunis criminal court. The couple went into exile on Jan. 14 in Saudi Arabia after a month-long uprising that sparked a string of other uprisings in the Arab world.

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The ex-president was fined 50 million dinars (about $35,750) and his wife 41 million dinars for embezzlement of public funds and misappropriation. The trove of jewels, some which the court said had "historic value," and the money were found in a palace in the picturesque town of Sidi Bou Said, outside Tunis, following Ben Ali's departure.

Ben Ali, 74, vigorously denied the charges in a statement through his French lawyer, calling the proceedings a "shameful masquerade of the justice of the victorious."

Saudi Arabia did not respond to an extradition request, and some Tunisians expressed frustration that he would not be present for his judgment.

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The verdict in a second case stemming from the discovery of weapons and drugs in the official presidential palace in Carthage was postponed. Public defenders assigned to Ben Ali said they needed time to study the file. The trial was to continue June 30.

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