Cablegate: Swiss: Ben Ali Son-in-Law Wanted Residency


DE RUEHTU #0299/01 0841410
P 241410Z MAR 08

S E C R E T TUNIS 000299




E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/23/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Robert F. Godec for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

1. (S/NF) Summary. XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador on March 21 that President Ben Ali's son-in-law Sakher Matri had requested a residency permit for Geneva, apparently to facilitate his business interests in Europe. Faessler said that the Swiss denied Matri's request to send a signal about their frustration over a former employee's ongoing sit-in outside the Chancery. Matri, who is married to Ben Ali's daughter, quickly brought an end to the sit-in, with the MFA telling XXXXXXXXXXXX that Ben Ali was "sorry" for the inconvenience. End Summary.

2. (S/NF) On March 21, XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador that prominent Tunisian businessman and Presidential son-in-law Sakher Matri (bio data para 5) had recently requested a residency permit for Geneva. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that Geneva had declined Matri's request after consulting with Bern, where Foreign Ministry officials sought to send a message to the GOT about their frustration with a disgruntled former employee protesting at the Swiss Embassy in Tunis. (Note: XXXXXXXXXXXX was reportedly fired in 2001 for refusing to translate an article published in an opposition newspaper, which he said "would be used to harm Tunisia's reputation." XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador XXXXXXXXXXXX was fired for being dishonest, but received all appropriate compensation. Following his dismissal, he began a sit-in outside the Swiss Embassy which had continued for over a year.) XXXXXXXXXXXX said that Matri's lawyers had applied for the residency permit, apparently to facilitate his business interests, including with the rising number of Gulf nationals in Switzerland. XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador that there is some evidence that the Ben Ali family was moving more money into Switzerland, but perhaps less than into other European countries.

3. (C/NF) When Matri's residency request was declined, he approached XXXXXXXXXXXX to obtain a visitor visa. While he initially asked for an appointment outside of business hours, Matri eventually came in person to apply for the visa on February 29. XXXXXXXXXXXX turned him down, on the grounds that XXXXXXXXXXXX's presence impeded the Embassy's ability to conduct normal business. XXXXXXXXXXXX said that when Matri left the Embassy, he placed several of XXXXXXXXXXXX's protest signs in his trunk. Not a half hour later, Hatem Ben Salem, the MFA Secretary of State for European Affairs (deputy-Secretary

equivalent) convoked XXXXXXXXXXXX. Ben Salem toldXXXXXXXXXXXX that President Ben Ali had called to say he was not aware of XXXXXXXXXXXX's protest and was very sorry for any inconvenience. When XXXXXXXXXXXX returned to the Embassy, XXXXXXXXXXXX shouted at him, "You've won the battle, but not the war." The following Monday, March 3, XXXXXXXXXXXX appeared briefly at the Embassy with some family members, but the police quickly removed him and he has not returned since.

4. (S/NF) XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador that he had attributed XXXXXXXXXXXX's continued presence to GOT annoyance over Swiss criticism at the 2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society and meetings between the Swiss Foreign Minister and Tunisian opposition. He opined that the GOT had subsequently increased its pressure on the Swiss, through allowing XXXXXXXXXXXX's protest and pressuring XXXXXXXXXXXX to abandon his residence, which sits practically in the middle of the Presidential Palace in Carthage (the palace walls have been built around it). Following Matri's visit, Ben Salem told
XXXXXXXXXXXX that there was "no pressure" for him to move from his residence. XXXXXXXXXXXX told the Ambassador that he had once
complained about XXXXXXXXXXXX's presence with Minister of Defense Kamel Morjane, who said he could not raise the issue with Ben
Ali, since you could never tell in what mood the President might be.

5. (C/NF) Comment. The Swiss experience with the GOT cold shoulder and the Matri-induced thaw in relations is not surprising. However, Matri's interest in obtaining European residency is an interesting sign of Ben Ali family intentions. While Matri may have only been seeking to expand his business interests, many Ben Ali critics remain on the lookout for signs he and his family are planning their ultimate -- and profitable -- departure from Tunisia. End Comment.

6. (C/NF) Bio Data: Fahed Mohamed Sakher Matri (DPOB: Dec. 2, 1981, Tunis) is married to Ben Ali's oldest daughter with second wife Leila Trabelsi, Nesrine. A prominent businessman, Matri is the owner of the formerly state-owned Ennaql (Transportation) company, which is the sole distributor of Volkswagen and Porsche in Tunisia. The company was rumored to be a wedding present for Matri, although it was reported that he paid over USD 10 million for the purchase. He is also the owner of Princess El Materi Holding, which includes Goulette Shipping Cruise. The company, which has significant holding in the health, tourism and agribusiness sectors, recently won a contract to expand the Port of Tunis into a cruise ship marina. In 2007, he was granted authorization to launch a Koranic radio station, Zitouna, which broadcasts moderate Islamic teachings. His father, Moncef El Materi, is a former army officer and a member of the Chamber of Advisors.
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