French minister's Tunisia holiday paid by regime

31st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet stayed in a luxury hotel in Tunisia at the expense of the authoritarian regime of then-president Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, an official of the national tourism office said Tuesday.

"We paid his lodging and food bill, he paid the extras," said Amine Hajri, head of the French service of the National Tunisian Tourism Office (ONTT), confirming revelations to appear Wednesday in French lifestyle weekly, Les Inrockuptibles.

At the time of the 2006 visit, the defence minister was a senator and advisor to the then leader of France's centre-right UMP party, Nicolas Sarkozy, now the French president.

"I confirm that he [Longuet] stayed in the hotel and that it was the tourism office that made the reservation," said Karima Ben Moussa, director of The Residence, a five-star hotel near Tunis.

Longuet's entourage confirmed Monday that the minister did stay at the hotel. As for the bill for the two nights, Longuet told Les Inrockuptibles that he didn't remember who had paid it.

"It's possible that it was done," the minister said. "I didn't personally take care of it and never asked myself the question, but if the Tunisian government feels that I didn't pay, I can send them a check right away."

According to the magazine, Longuet was on a Mediterranean cruise with his friend Jean-Marc Sylvestre, a prominent television business journalist. Both were accompanied by their children.

The authoritarian regime of President Ben Ali fell in January after 23 years in power.

Since then, the sometimes cosy relations between French politicians and the regime have come glaringly to light, even costing a top minister her job.

In early 2011, just as popular rage was causing the downfall of Ben Ali, French Foreign Minister Michele Alliot-Marie was forced to step down.

Over the Christmas holidays -- when the uprising in Tunisia had already begun -- she and her extended family had flown twice on the private jet of a businessman with close ties to the Ben Ali regime.

On board were her aged parents who had recently bought shares from the businessman in a real estate venture.

© 2011 AFP

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