Image Source: Facebook (Left to Right) Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development Nejib Deriouche, Minister of State Property and Land Affairs Hatem El Euchi and UPL President Slim Riahi in April 2016.
Jamel Tlili, a former member of the Free Patriotic Union (UPL-L’Union Patriotique Libre) has publicly accused the party President, Slim Riahi, and two current government ministers of abusing their power and engaging in systemic corruption. The UPL is a junior member of the current governing coalition. Tlili, held a press conference on June 9 in which he claimed UPL President Slim Riahi had created a "committee" to extort money from businessmen, manipulate government financial records and redirect government property to Riahi or his business interests including the Club Africain football club. According to Tlili's statements Nejib Deriouche (the Minister of the Environment and Sustainable Development) and Hatem El Euchi (Minister of State Property and Land Affairs, and recently appointed the UPL's Secretary General) have through their complicity, abused their official powers and engaged in illegal activities. Immediately after Tlili's press conference both El Euchi and Deriouche denied the allegations and threatened legal action against Tlili. Tlili then reiterated his accusations on Nessma TV and MosaiqueFM this week. On MosaiqueFM Tlili said he had evidence to support his claims and that he had 'informed the concerned parties and alerted justice' and organized the press conference when no actions were taken.To date there have been no official announcements regarding any formal investigation or legal charges resulting from Tlili's accusations. After Tlili's television and radio appearances, El Euchi told Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) on Tuesday that he had asked lawyer Kamel Ben Messaoud to file a lawsuit against Tlili through 'Article 128 of the Penal Code which provides for a sentence of two years prison and a fine of 120 dinars against anyone who publicly accuses a public official of crimes in connection with their duties without evidence'. Slim Riahi and Tarek Ftiti, head of the UPL's parliamentary bloc in the Assembly of the Representatives (ARP), have claimed the party is being subjected to a smear campaign and Riahi has accused Nidaa Tounes of orchestrating an effort to 'destablize' the UPL. According to Tlili the current Minister of Commerce and UPL member, Mohsen Hassen, had refused to cooperate with the "committee" which caused a rift between Hassen and Riahi. Mohsen Hassen has subsequently denied having been subject to pressures from Riahi, or that Riahi sought to exert influence over the Ministry of Commerce's activities. Tlili blamed such pressures for the resignation of Maher Ben Dhia, current Minister of Sports and Youth who resigned from the party in April. Ben Dhia's resignation came after UPL President Slim Riahi publicly accused Ben Dhia of laxism towards the Tunisian Football Federation when Riahi accused the Federation of corrupt refereeing following a loss by Club Africain to Etoile Sportive du Sahel in April. After Ben Dhia and several ARP deputies resigned from the party the UPL held a meeting in Sousse on May 22 to replenish its internal party appointments. In addition to naming El Euchi to replace Ben Dhia as secretary general the UPL officially announced that Tlili had been named deputy secretary general. Within twenty four hours of the announcement Tlili resigned from the party announcing then that he had not been made aware of his appointment or even his nomination. When he resigned Tlili promised to elaborate on the reasons behind his resignation at a later date. Ahead of Tlili's accusations, the UPL had announced it would suspend its activities in the coalition government's committees and meetings, but not withdraw from the coalition itself, as a result of several of its resigning ARP deputies joining the Nidaa Tounes voting bloc in the ARP. According to a UPL statement Nidaa Tounes was in violation of an agreement between coalition members not to poach or accept each other’s migratory deputies. The UPL had declared then that “There are parts outside the official leadership of Nidaa Tounes that influence the decision of the party, and who are engaged in a conspiracy to weaken the UPL.” The UPL announcement did leave open the possibility of resuming its activities, once it had received a “clarification of the official position of the leaders of Nidaa Tounes”. Despite the announced 'freeze' of its coalition activities the UPL, through Riahi has participated in meetings chaired by President Beji Caid Essebsi regarding the possibility of forming a new 'unity' coalition government. It has however refused to participate in talks with Nidaa Tounes.