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Wealthy Tunisian fights to keep his status as Canadian permanent resident

The wealthy brother-in-law of Tunisia's ousted president has used his Canadian permanent residency as a shield from Tunisian justice, a federal lawyer argued Monday.

Belhassen Trabelsi is asking to maintain permanent residency in Canada for his family because he fears for his safety in his native land.

But Mr. Trabelsi's absence from Monday's hearing shows he is not serious about his claim that he is in danger, according to federal lawyer Catherine Raymond.

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"Permanent residency status is not meant to be used in a touristy manner to facilitate travel," Ms. Raymond told and Immigration and Refugee Board appeal hearing.

"Nor should it be used as a means to avoid justice in another country."

Mr. Trabelsi, his wife and three children fled to Canada in January 2011 after Tunisian president Zine el Abidine Ben Ali was overthown in a popular uprising. According to Tunisian media reports, Mr. Trabelsi, who is accused of plundering the state treasury to gain enormous wealth along with many Ben Ali family members, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Mr. Trabelsi admits he did not live in Canada for two of the past five years, as required by law. He is instead asking Immigration adjudicator Marie-Claude Paquette to allow him to stay on humanitarian grounds.

Ms. Paquette is now deliberating the case and will deliver a written decision in the weeks ahead. The decision is subject to appeal and Mr. Trabelsi also has a pending refugee claim, which is being heard behind closed doors.

Mr. Trabelsi recently wrote an open letter released to Tunisian media that he was prepared to return to clear his name "in a fair, equitable trial before a Tunisian tribunal."

He denied any wrongdoing and said his wealth was not the result of plundering government coffers.

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"Even if I voluntarily or involuntarily made mistakes, I am ready to be accountable and to appear before justice, even though I never intended to harm my country or its people," the letter says, according to a translation by the Tunisian news agency TAP.

Ms. Raymond said the letter shows Mr. Trabelsi is not serious about his claim that he and his family would be in danger.

Tunisia has asked Canada to return Mr. Trabelsi, but the two countries lack a bilateral extradition treaty.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Les Perreaux joined the Montreal bureau of the Globe and Mail in 2008. He previously worked for the Canadian Press covering national and international affairs, including federal and Quebec politics and the war in Afghanistan. More

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