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Tunisia Investigates Ousted President's Finances


In this image made from Channel 7 Tunisia TV Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is seen making a speech in Tunis, 13 Jan 2011

In this image made from Channel 7 Tunisia TV Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is seen making a speech in Tunis, 13 Jan 2011

Tunisian prosecutors have begun investigating the overseas assets of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, his family and associates.

Officials are said to be looking at bank accounts, real estate, and other valuables held by the former ruler, as well as his wife Leila Trabelsi and her relatives.

Also Wednesday, the Swiss government ordered a freeze on the former ruler's assets, which a news report says may include a building in Geneva and a jet aircraft.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said the order is intended to prevent "misuse" of funds.

Ben Ali fled Tunisia after weeks of political unrest, which has hurt the nation's key tourist industry, and prompted lenders to worry about Tunisia's economic growth and the safety of its bonds.

Moody's Investor Services downgraded Tunisia's foreign debt one notch to the lowest investment grade (Baa3). Moody's said the increased risk stems from high unemployment, rising prices, and restrictive politics.

Another major rating agency has already warned it may also cut Tunisia's credit rating. A lower credit rating makes it likely that lenders will charge higher interest rates for loans to Tunisia, making it more expensive and difficult to finance new projects or re-finance old debts.

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