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Tunisia issues arrest warrant for former presidential candidate Nabil Karoui

Announcement comes a day after Karoui and his brother were reportedly arrested in Algeria
Nabil Karoui
Tunisia's former presidential candidate Nabil Karoui waves to well wishers as he leaves prison in Tunis following his release on 15 June, 2021 (AFP)

Tunisia issued an arrest warrant on Tuesday for former presidential candidate Nabil Karoui and his brother, authorities said, a day after reports they had been detained in neighbouring Algeria.

Riadh al-Nouioui, a spokesman for the Kasserine court in central Tunisia, told the TAP news agency that an arrest warrant had been issued for Nabil and Ghazi Karoui for illegally crossing the border.

A person suspected of helping the pair to leave the country had been arrested the day before, he added.

The privately owned Radio Mosaique FM reported on Monday that the Qalb Tounes party chief and his brother, Ghazi, had been taken into custody in Algeria.

Algeria and Tunisia are bound by an agreement stipulating the extradition by either country "of any person prosecuted or convicted" in the other. Any extradition request must be "accompanied by an official document from the authorities".

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On Monday, human rights groups accused Tunisia of handing over political activist Slimane Bouhafs to Algeria, after he was sentenced to jail in 2016 for "insulting Islam".

Speculation has mounted in Tunisian media and social networks that the Karoui brothers' arrest came in exchange for the handover of Bouhafs.

Karoui, 57, was a frontrunner in the 2019 presidential race, appealing to the North African country's poorest at a time when Tunisia was mired in political deadlock and economic struggles.

He has been under investigation since 2017 in a money-laundering and tax evasion case and was arrested in 2019. He spent most of his presidential campaign in prison.

He was released days before the runoff vote, which he lost in a landslide to Kais Saied, a retired constitutional law professor. 

Since becoming president, Saied has dismissed his prime minister and assumed executive authority in a move opponents have branded a coup.

Last week, Saied extended the indefinite suspension of parliament - calling the body a "threat to the state".