Hotel “Sheraton Gate” affair turns into legal nightmare for naughty Tunisian MP

Published January 7th, 2013 - 11:22 GMT
The Towers Room at the Hotel Sheraton, Tunis.
The Towers Room at the Hotel Sheraton, Tunis.

One plush suite and a few hotel receipts could mark the end of a career for one of Tunisia’s leading politicians, after a scandal that allegedly embroiled him in adultery and embezzlement. 

The minister of foreign affairs, Rafik Abdessalem, was left red faced after one of his country’s bloggers posted the receipts from his hotel bill. Tunisian netizen, Olfa Riahi, released the bills on her personal blog, hoping to shed light on the alleged corruption.

Abdessalem was reportedly paying for his female cousin to stay at the Sheraton in Tunis, where rooms are a minimum of 460 TND (US $296) a night, using public money. 

Rumors are rife that the ‘cousin’ in question, a married mother of two, was really the minister’s mistress. Although the blogger who originally posted the receipts said it was not her intention to implicate the woman in the controversy.

“I want to exonerate the woman and her husband from all accusations and defamation they have experienced. I apologize to them even though I am not responsible for the defamations,” Riahi said.

The scandal, now known as “Sheraton Gate”, took on a more serious tone this week after a group of 25 lawyers announced on Tunisian radio station, Mosaique FM, that they would be taking legal action against the minister for “misuse of public funds”.

According to Article 96 of the Penal Code, Abdessalem could face ten years in prison, if he is found guilty of obtaining an unfair advantage using state funds or privilege.

However, other members of the Ennahda government have cast doubt on the accusations. The Tunisian state news agency reported on Friday that the attorney general would be investigating how credible the receipts really were.

According to Fathi Laayouni, the lawyer employed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abdessalem only ever paid for his tab in cash and using his own money.

But with the revolution well and truly over, the government of Tunisia seems to have lost its fear of its people and will be standing against them in court instead. 

 

Should the Tunisian government take the blogger to court? Or should the MP face the music? Tell us what you think below.


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