When businessman Bahri Jelassi recently claimed that a number of MPs offered to sell themselves to his business colleagues who also head political parties, it rocked the pillars of the Constituent Assembly. Jelassi said he got his share of seats (offered for sale) after eight months of negotiations.

When businessman Bahri Jelassi recently claimed that a number of MPs offered to sell themselves to his business colleagues who also head political parties, it rocked the pillars of the Constituent Assembly. Jelassi said he got his share of seats (offered for sale) after eight months of negotiations.

Electronic websites have already published copies of local contracts signed by MPs vowing to join the Openness and the Loyalty Party, headed by Bahri Jelassi, in return for sums of money and cars. These MPs have since changed their minds, which prompted the businessman to speak about their acts of fraud. Jelassi accused the MPs of stealing the money but the MPs denied these accusations.

Dirty Deals

Jelassi, who heads the Openness and Loyalty Party, in a telephone conversation with Correspondents, said that in the past, eight MPs and a number of businessmen had contacted him and discussed with him the idea of joining his party in return for some money.  “After negotiating a deal with them, an agreement was reached in this regard,” said Jelassi. 

Jelassi, known as an advocate of the marriage of minors, told Correspondents that he had delivered sums of money ranging between 17,000 dinars (US $10,200) and 15,000 (US $9000), cars, and offices. “After a while, I was surprised to know that they withdrew without even telling me. Most of them refused to return the spoils they received from me,” he said. 

On the reasons why he decided to reveal the process of buying seats of the Constituent Assembly, although this might subject him to punishment on charges of bribery, Jelassi said: “The Tunisian people must know the truth about those who are representing them in the writing of the Constitution. They wear the mask of defendants of libertarians and warriors of corruption, while they are all corrupt (themselves).”   

They sold themselves

Saeed al-Kharchoufi, the spokesman for the al-Mahaba stream (the party of deputies accused of selling seats), confirmed that he asked Mustapha Ben Jaafar, the chairman of the Constituent Assembly to open an urgent investigation on this issue. He also called for suspending the work of MPs whose names were mentioned by Bahri Jelassi in case they were found guilty of bribery.

Saeed al-Kharchoufi said: “Like all others, I was shocked after hearing the statements of Jelassi. It is not easy for me to accept that a number of my old colleagues in the party have sold themselves and their conscience and have betrayed the trust of their impoverished and marginalized constituents.”

The spokesman of the party (previously the Popular Petition for Freedom, Justice and Development, which is close to the Ennahda Movement), said: “If the accusations against these MPs are proven to be true, the members should be suspended in the council. They did not represent the people as they should and they only serve their own interests and the interests of those who pay more.”

False allegations

All the MPs accused by Jelassi of selling themselves and of taking the money and withdrawing, denied these allegations. Some of them went as far as filing lawsuits on charges of “false accusations” against them and some filed lawsuits against Saeed al-Kharchoufi, the official spokesman of their party. They also said that they have no fears whatsoever regarding the results of the investigations that have commenced.

Jalal Farhat, one of the deputies accused by Jelassi of fraud, did not deny that he joined the party of the businessman and then left it.  However, he said that he was surprised by Jelassi’s claim that he had sold his seat.

“Shortly after joining the Openness and Loyalty Party we were shocked by the way Jelassi interfered with everything. Moreover, his stances are strange and disgraceful, like his support for the marriage of minors, which has tarnished the image of the party.”

“Jelassi is launching a revenge campaign to defame MPs who withdrew from his party and refused to be tools, used by him to implement his crazy and suspicious projects.”

Jalal Farhat said upcoming investigations would soon reveal who was lying. “We will not abandon our rights of prosecuting those who filed lawsuits against us and wanted to tarnish the image of the National Constituent Assembly. The investigations are going to reveal shocking facts for the Tunisian people.”

Jelassi said that he filed a complaint at the Tunis Court of First Instance against six Consituent Assembly MPs: Tarek Bouazizi (a deputy for Nabeul 1), Moncef Charni (Nabeul 2) Ramdhane Doghmani (deputy for the Kairouan city) and Chokri Arfaoui (deputy for Siliana), Jalal Farhat (deputy for Mahdia) and Hosni Badri (deputy for Sidi Bouzid) in order to confiscate the assets, offices, and cars of the Openness and Loyalty Party.

An investigation commission

Maharzieh Obeidi, First Deputy of the President of the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia said that a committee had been formed to investigate the information and charges against some MPs of taking bribes and joining parties in return for money. “The committee will take the necessary procedures in case these charges are proven to be correct.”

Many parties that did not participate in the October 23 elections are currently represented in the Constituent Assembly, among them are the Nida Tounes Movement headed by former Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi, and the Republic Movement Party, which was founded by Larbia Nasra, the owner of the first private TV station in Tunisia.

The remaining MPs of the al-Mahaba Party, the original party of deputies accused of selling seats, filed a lawsuit a year ago, after the defection of a significant number of MPs who became members of the Constituent Assembly in the lists of the al-Mahaba Stream, which is headed by Hashemi Hamidi.

Obeidi also called upon the remaining party’s deputies to revise the rules of procedure of the Constituent Assembly to prevent deputies from moving from one party to the other after the defection of more than half of its deputies who later joined other parties and blocs.