Tunisia’s Islamists decry asset freezes as political move

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — Tunisia’s influential Islamist movement Ennahdha on Thursday strongly disputed accusations of money laundering and terrorism financing after the country’s central bank froze the bank accounts of a dozen top party officials.

Party leader Rached Ghannouchi, a former Tunisian parliament speaker who has clashed with President Kais Saied, was among those hit by the account freezes, which authorities said targeted those suspected of links to a charity called Nama Tounes.

Ennahdha spokesperson Imed Khemiri called the accusations a “malicious maneuver” aimed at diverting the attention of public opinion from Tunisia’s economic and political problems and at presenting Ennahdha as “a threat.”

“The freezing of the financial assets of Ghannouchi as well as of a certain number of Ennahdha leaders has no legal basis, but is rather a deliberate targeting of the movement,” the spokesperson said.

In a statement, Ennahdha said that Ghannouchi already made a declaration of his assets and that all his banking transactions are legal. The party said it ensures it has not received any money from inside or outside the country and has not made any transfer to the accounts of the charity.

The list of those whose accounts were frozen includes Ghannouchi’s son, daughter and son-in-law as well as former Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, his two daughters and his wife.

The party spokesman said the accusations were aimed at distracting attention from a July 25 referendum planned by the president to change the constitution to augment presidential powers and reduce the role of the parliament and prime minister. The president critics say he is trying to legitimize a “coup.”

Saied suspended parliament last year and seized broad powers in a move that he said was necessary to “save the country” from political and economic crisis. This prompted criticism from the opposition, which accuses him of a slide toward totalitarianism.

Saied and some others blamed Ennahdha in part for Tunisia’s political crisis last year. Ennahdha, which dominated parliament before it was suspended, is among the president’s fiercest critics.

Ghannouchi has been summoned to appear before an anti-terrorism judge July 19 in connection with an investigation into terrorist financing and money laundering, according to judicial officials.

Khemiri expressed concern that the executive branch could manipulate the judicial system against Ennahdha, after the president recently dismissed 57 judges and established a new council to oversee the judiciary.

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