TORONTO — The Canadian government said the brother-in-law of ousted Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has applied for refugee status in Canada, effectively blocking efforts to extradite him to the North African country.
Belhassen Trabelsi, a billionaire Tunisian businessman and brother of former first lady Leila Trabelsi, reportedly arrived in Canada last week with his family.
As the first lady's oldest brother, he was known as the Trabelsi clan chieftain and is suspected of running the family's many mafia-style rackets.
Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Saturday that Trabelsi has submitted a claim for asylum.
Cannon had said earlier that the government would try to comply with Tunisia's extradition request, but under Canadian law, it could take years to decide the asylum and extradition cases, given the lengthy appeals process.
"We've indicated that these people are not welcome in Canada, but obviously that having been stated, Canada is nonetheless a country that has legislation," Cannon said. "We do abide by the rule of law."
Canada also said it will also freeze Trabelsi's assets. Cannon said every effort will be made to track down his accounts.