Tunisian energy minister, top officials sacked - source

There was no immediate comment from Khaled Kaddour, the first minister targeted in a crackdown on corruption that Tunisia’s PM Youssef Chahed launched in 2017.

FILE: Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed. Picture: AFP.

TUNIS - Tunisia’s Prime Minister Youssef Chahed sacked the energy minister, Khaled Kaddour, and four other senior officials linked to that ministry on Friday over corruption accusations, an official source said.

Chahed ordered the merger of the ministries of energy and industry and launched an investigation into the accusations, the official source told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from Kaddour - the first minister targeted in a crackdown on corruption that Chahed launched in 2017. So far only mid-level officials have lost their jobs.

One of the other officials dismissed on Friday - secretary of state for energy, Hachem Hmidi - told Reuters he denied the accusations.

“My exit from the government helps me to devote myself to the case and prove that I am innocent of these malicious charges,” he said.

There were no immediate statements from the other officials named by the source - the director general of fuel, the head of the national oil company, ETAP, and the ministry’s director general of legal affairs.

Corruption was one of the main catalysts of the 2011 revolt against autocrat Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. Many Tunisians complain graft remains widespread despite a democratic transition since 2011 with free elections.

In 2017, the government confiscated the property and froze bank accounts of about 20 prominent businessmen arrested on suspicion of corruption.

Chafik Jaraya, who maintains political contacts in Tunisia and Libya and helped finance the Nidaa Tounes ruling party during the last elections in 2014, was among those arrested last year.

He is in jail awaiting trial. His lawyer has said the charges are politically motivated.

Tunisia’s anti-corruption committee has said graft is still widespread in all business sectors and causes losses worth billions of dollars every year.