Tunisia's ousted president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali said he was tricked into leaving his country for Saudi Arabia, as Tunisia begins to try him in absentia in the first of what are expected to be multiple trials related to his years in power.
Ali said Monday in a statement issued by his lawyers that he had taken a plane to Saudi Arabia to bring his family to safety. He said he had planned to return to Tunisia immediately, but the plane's crew ignored his instructions to wait for him and left without him.
Ben Ali went to Saudi Arabia in January amid mass protests against his 23-year rule.
The ousted leader is being tried in absentia Monday on charges that include embezzlement, money laundering, and drug trafficking. Future trials are expected on charges that include conspiring against the state and voluntary manslaughter.
In all, there are more than 90 criminal cases pending against Ben Ali and his allies.
Officials say the former president will be tried in military and civilian courts. He has denied all charges against him.
Saudi officials have not responded to Tunisian requests to extradite Ben Ali and his wife, Leila Trabelsi.
Many Tunisians say they believe the former president and his family improperly amassed large fortunes. Protesters looted and set fire to dozens of the family's businesses and luxurious villas during the January uprising. The ousted president said he never had the huge sums of money he is alleged to have possessed.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.