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Tunisian media mogul and ex-presidential candidate arrested for corruption

Nabil Karoui was arrested last year but released during the presidential election in which he lost in a landslide defeat
Nabil Karoui founded Tunisia's main private channel, Nessma TV
Nabil Karoui founded Tunisia's main privately owned channel, Nessma TV (AFP/File photo)

Former Tunisian presidential candidate and media mogul Nabil Karoui has been arrested on charges of money laundering and tax evasion, a spokesman for the judicial court has said.

Karoui is facing the same charges that forced him to spend most of last year's presidential campaign in jail, the state news agency TAP reported on Thursday. 

Karoui was released days before the runoff vote in October 2019, which he lost in a landslide to Kais Saied, a retired constitutional law professor affectionately dubbed "Robocop".

Both candidates rode to the presidential runoff on the disenchantment of Tunisians, particularly young people and the poor, who felt the governing class had not fulfilled the promises of Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which unleashed revolts around the Arab world.

Mohsen Dali, a Tunis court spokesman, said a judge in charge of financial cases ordered Karoui to be jailed again after he was summoned for questioning.

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Dali said Karoui could appeal against his arrest. Karoui's brother Ghazi is also facing charges, but was not arrested because he enjoys immunity as a parliament deputy, the spokesman said.

Nazih Souii, a lawyer and member of Karoui's support committee, said he was "surprised and shocked" by the arrest, and alleged the judge acted under "political pressure".

Since assuming office, Saied has vowed to root out the corruption that has contributed to Tunisia's economic struggles.

Other politicians have often accused Karoui of corruption, and several proceedings have been opened against him and his Nessma TV channel, which reportedly broadcasts without a licence.

Karoui founded the Qalb Tounes party, which came second in last year's legislative elections and now holds 30 of the chamber's 217 seats after a string of resignations.

It is an ally of the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party, which holds the most seats in parliament, and supports the technocratic government.

Tunisia has faced political instability this year, after multiple attempts to form a government cabinet failed following parliamentary elections.

Last week, Tunisia's environment minister was sacked and subsequently arrested after an attempt to import household and hospital waste from Italy.