TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian President Kais Saied on Monday issued a decree to offer an amnesty to businessmen involved in corruption cases if they put money into state projects, the official gazette said, a move aimed at recovering about $5 billion.
He also issued a separate decree instituting severe prison sentences for those who monopolise or hoard commodities at a time when shortages of some basic goods are hitting Tunisians.
Saied has instituted one-man rule since seizing most powers last summer in a move his foes call a coup. His plans to restructure Tunisian politics face headwinds from an economic crisis that threatens to bankrupt the state.
Though the government he appointed in September has resumed the previous administration’s efforts to secure a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund, Saied himself has not articulated any clear economic policy.
Instead he has focused on railing against corruption and market speculators, promising to recoup money that he says has been stolen from the state.
According to the first decree, Saied will appoint a reconciliation committee consisting of judges to consider amnesty for businessmen in return for them implementing development projects in poor areas.
The president has said that 460 people have stolen about 14 billion dinars ($4.8 billion) from Tunisia, and offered a “penal settlement” if they returned the money instead of being prosecuted and imprisoned.
Saied is a former law professor who came to office in 2019 campaigning against corruption and an entrenched political elite.
Tunisia is suffering its worst ever financial crisis, exacerbated by a failure to obtain external funds from its Western partners, who are asking Saied for inclusive dialogue that includes everyone to restore the democratic path.
Fitch ratings agency downgraded Tunisian sovereign debt to junk status on Friday, saying it believed the government would default on loans.
($1 = 2.9450 Tunisian dinars)
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)