LONDON — The World Bank has uncovered new evidence of large-scale corruption and tax evasion by firms owned by the family of the former Tunisian president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali during his dictatorship, and also warned that graft has intensified since the revolution that ousted him four years ago, officials said Wednesday.
A new research paper by World Bank economists released Thursday shows that companies owned by relatives and close allies of Mr. Ben Ali defrauded the state of $1 billion to $2.6 billion over a seven-year period by avoiding import tariffs. Researchers investigated the dealings of 206 companies between 2002 and 2009.
The findings represent one example of the cronyism that typified Mr. Ben Ali’s 23 years in power and that was one of the main drivers behind the uprising that overthrew him in 2011. Protesters vented their anger against Mr. Ben Ali’s family, and in particular his wife, Leila Trabelsi, a former hairdresser, and her businessmen brothers who had rapidly amassed great wealth.The scale of the corruption remains a concern not only for the money it has cost the Tunisian state, but also for the continuing damage that an unreformed and inequitable system does to the economy and to business in general.