Nabil Karoui, the Tunisian media mogul arrested on charges of money laundering and tax evasion, remains in the race for next month’s presidential election despite his detention, an electoral official has said.
“As long as there are no changes in his legal status and no final verdict, Nabil Karoui remains a presidential candidate,” Nabil Baffoun, the head of the electoral commission, told reporters on Saturday.
Tunisian police arrested Karoui on Friday in a move his party, Qalb Tounes, called a politically-motivated attempt to exclude him from the September 15 election race.
A government official quoted by Reuters news agency rejected that accusation, saying the arrest was “a judicial matter that has nothing to do with the government”.
Karoui, 56, owner of the Nesma TV channel, is one of the frontrunners contesting the presidential election following the death last month of 92-year-old President Beji Caid Essebsi – the first head of state to be democratically elected in Tunisia following the popular uprising of 2011.
Karoui’s main rival among the 26 candidates in the race is Prime Minister Youssef Chahed.
The media mogul was charged with money laundering in early July shortly after stating his intention to stand in the polls but has remained a leading candidate.
His arrest on Friday came as authorities instated a ban on three local outlets – including Karoui’s Nessma TV – from reporting on the election campaign over unlicensed “illegal” broadcasts.
On Saturday, his party alleged Chahed was behind the arrest but said it would only serve to promote Karoui’s campaign.
“We are making a direct accusation against Youssef Chahed and his gang of having orchestrated this arrest,” a Qalb Tounes senior official, Iyadh Elloumi, told a news conference.
He said such “degrading and dictatorial practises” would only serve as “free publicity” for Karoui.
The party leader, who also founded the Khalil Tounes Foundation to fight poverty, was nearly removed from the race in June when parliament passed an amended electoral code that would bar any candidate who handed out “favours in cash or in kind” in the year before the vote.
But Essebsi had not signed the law before he died, allowing Karoui to run.
Other candidates in the presidential race include former president Moncef Marzouki and Abdelfattah Mourou, vice president of the moderate Islamist Ennahdha party.
Tunisia’s president controls foreign and defence policy, governing alongside a prime minister chosen by parliament who has authority over domestic affairs.