Urges U.S. Agencies to Immediately Join Global Search for Missing $5 Billion

Washington, DC –Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today urged the United States government to heed requests by the new Tunisian government to immediately join in the global hunt for some $5 billion in Tunisian state funds that are missing and presumably stolen by former President Ben Ali when he fled the country three weeks ago.

In letters delivered to Secretary of State Clinton, Attorney General Holder and Treasury Secretary Geithner, Berman urged that those cabinet officials “immediately authorize U.S. help in locating and seizing the stolen assets”.

“The new Tunisian government has asked for our help,” Berman commented. “While the European Union launched an asset freeze last Friday, I am concerned that the U.S. government has not yet responded. Time is of the essence to locate the funds before they disappear into the dark reaches of the illicit global money vaults.”

On February 5th, the European Union issued a regulation authorizing a freeze of the assets of former President Ben Ali, his wife and 48 of their associates who are believed to have abetted in the illegal transfer of some $5 billion in Tunisian state funds, when Ben Ali fled the country.

The operations of the State Department fall under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Affairs Committee, where Berman is the senior Democrat. The international sanctions authority of the Treasury Department also falls under the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Please find a copy of the letter sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton below. Identical letters were also sent to Attorney General Holder and Treasury Secretary Geithner.

February 8, 2011

The Honorable Hillary Clinton

Secretary of State

Department of State

Washington, D.C. 20520

Dear Secretary Clinton:

This is to urge that the United States move expeditiously to join the European Union in locating and seizing Tunisian government funds misappropriated by the former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his associates and moved out of Tunisia. As much as $5 billion of state funds may be involved.

Late last week, the Council of the European Union issued a regulation authorizing a freeze of Tunisian state assets in the control of Mr. Ben Ali, his wife and 48 other persons who are believed to have abetted the illegal transfer of the funds. I understand that the Tunisian government has asked the United States for help in locating and recovering these assets. Inasmuch as the United States plays a central role in managing the global banking system, our assistance is essential if the recovery effort is to be successful.

The State Department, together with the Justice Department and the Department of the Treasury, have a well-established and highly effective mechanism for investigating illicit financial transfers around the world and seizing the illegally-obtained assets of such transactions. I urge that you, Attorney General Holder and Secretary Geithner move immediately to direct that the United States join the European Union in aiding the Tunisian people and their new government in recovering these funds.



Ranking Member