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Swift justice in Tunisia

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Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the ousted Tunisian dictator, didn't get his day in court, but that was by design. He refused to return from Saudi Arabian exile for his trial (the Saudis ignored an extradition request) and dismissed the proceedings as a sham. "Victors' justice," he called it in a statement.

Mr. Ben Ali, whose friends and relatives amassed vast personal fortunes during his rule of Tunisia, is the very picture of a kleptocrat and his family was generally reviled by the Tunisian public.

"President Ben Ali's extended family is often cited as the nexus of Tunisian corruption," US Ambassador Robert Godec wrote in a 2008 diplomatic cable that was released last year by Wikileaks. "Often referred to as a quasi-mafia, an oblique mention of "the Family" is enough to indicate which family you mean."

But the conviction of Ben Ali and his wife yesterday on embezzlement charges came with breathtaking speed. After 23 years in power, a Tunis court needed just a few hours to sentence the pair to 35 years in jail and more than $60 million in fines.

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