MONTREAL — The chauffeur goes unpaid, the children’s private school fees are in arrears and making the $5,000 monthly rent is a struggle.
Life in Canada is not as rosy as Belhassen Trabelsi imagined when the billionaire fled Tunisia in 2011 in the midst of a popular uprising that drove his brother-in-law, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, from the presidential palace.
And new Federal Court ruling rejecting a bid by Mr. Trabelsi and his wife, Zohra Djilani, to loosen financial restrictions placed on them means things are not going to get better soon.
The June 27 decision by Justice Jocelyne Gagné upholds Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird’s June 2013 denial of a request from the couple to unblock $109,680 to cover living expenses and legal fees.
Under federal law, Mr. Trabelsi, Ms. Djilani and their four minor children are listed as “politically exposed foreign persons” whose assets in Canada have been frozen at the request of Tunisian authorities because of their close ties to the deposed president. (Mr. Trabelsi’s sister is married to Mr. Ben Ali.)
Judge Gagné concluded the Trabelsi family has managed to maintain a “quite high” lifestyle since arriving in Montreal in January 2011, and the funds claimed were not necessary to meet their reasonable expenses.
Court documents show the money would be used to cover nearly $10,000 a month in living expenses over six months, including $5,000 in rent, $1,740 for a chauffeur and $240 for cigarettes. Legal fees accounted for $30,000 and private school fees $25,000.
The family members are seeking refugee status after being stripped of Canadian permanent residency obtained in the 1990s. They say they would be in danger of persecution, torture and death if returned to Tunisia.
In a 2008 diplomatic cable revealed by WikiLeaks in 2011, the U.S. embassy in Tunis called Mr. Ben Ali’s extended family a “quasi-mafia” and singled out the “strong-arm tactics and flagrant abuse of the system” of the Trabelsi clan.
“Belhassen Trabelsi is the most notorious family member and is rumoured to have been involved in a wide range of corruption schemes,” the cable said.
Mr. Trabelsi has been convicted in absentia and sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption, including illegal trade in precious metals and illegal transfer of currency.
Court documents depict him as a broken man since being forced to flee Tunisia.
A 2012 psychologist’s report entered into evidence describes him as “a sincere but extremely anxious and depressed 50-year-old.” It says he is on anti-anxiety medication and at one point contemplated suicide, but was dissuaded by thoughts of his children.
“He is hopeful that he and the family can have a normal life and enjoy the freedoms in Canada as well as the Canadian lifestyle,” the report says.
The court file includes a 2012 letter from Ms. Djilani to Mr. Baird, in which she says her wealth and that of her husband was not acquired illegally or fraudulently. She likens the federal government’s list designating her family as “politically exposed” to “Nazi lists that the world contests to this day.”
She depicts her family as “victims of a revolution and blind settlings of accounts … We came to Canada because of the esteem and respect we have for this great nation, a country of rights par excellence.”