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Tunisian fights to stay in Canada

Monday - 4/23/2012, 5:09pm  ET

MONTREAL (AP) - The brother-in-law of ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali didn't show up for a hearing to appeal the revocation of his permanent residency in Canada because he fears for his safety, his lawyer said Monday.

Federal lawyers demanded an immediate rejection of Belhassen Trabelsi's appeal because he didn't attend, but that request was rejected.

Trabelsi, the billionaire brother of former first lady Leila Trabelsi, arrived in Canada with his wife and two daughters on a private jet as the regime was falling in January 2011. They been quietly living in Montreal ever since.

Belhassen, known as the clan chieftain of the hated Trabelsi family, is alleged to have ruled over the family's many mafia-style rackets.

To keep one's permanent residence status, a person must remain in Canada for at least two years out of every five.

Trabelsi's lawyers admitted that he had failed to meet that requirement, but they noted his security and safety concerns.

Canadian government lawyers said Monday that they want an expulsion order against the family renewed. They noted that Trabelsi had been in Canada for only about 20 days in a five-year span before taking flight here.

Immigration Board member Marie-Claude Paquette said she'll deliberate before rendering a written judgment at a later date.

Trabelsi has also applied for refugee status, which could keep him in Canada for an extended period of time while his case plays out.

Trabelsi has been charged and sentenced in absentia in his native Tunisia. In September, Trabelsi was sentenced to 15 years and fined $500,000 for corruption, unlawful trade of precious metals and unlawful transfer of foreign currency.

In December, he received a 21-month sentence for unlawful possession of archaeological pieces.

Canadian authorities moved to revoke his permanent residence status within days of his arrival in Canada, but the status remains valid pending his appeal.

More than 70 Tunisian Montrealers attended court in hopes of catching a glimpse of the seldom-seen Trabelsi.


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