The brother-in-law of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali did not show up for a hearing to appeal the revocation of his permanent residency in Canada because he feared for his safety, his lawyer said on Monday.
Federal lawyers demanded an immediate rejection of Belhassen Trabelsi’s appeal because he did not attend, but that request was rejected.
Trabelsi, the billionaire brother of former Tunisian first lady Leila Trabelsi, arrived in Canada with his wife and two daughters on a private jet as the regime was falling in January last year. They have been living in Montreal ever since.
Belhassen, known as the clan chieftain of the 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 highlighted his security and safety concerns.
Canadian government lawyers said on Monday that they want an expulsion order against the family renewed. They said that Trabelsi had been in Canada for only about 20 days in a five-year span before fleeing Tunisia.
Canadian Immigration Board member Marie-Claude Paquette said she would 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.
In September last year, Trabelsi was tried in absentia in Tunisia, sentenced to 15 years and fined US$500,000 for corruption, unlawful trading in precious metals and the unlawful transfer of foreign currency.
In December, he received a 21-month sentence for the 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 the hope of catching a glimpse of the seldom-seen Trabelsi.