Foreign Automakers Review Relationships with Tunisian Partners, which...”happen” to be Relatives of the Ousted President

The looting of the Ferrari 599 GTB owned by former Tunisian president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali and the smashing of cars owned by his relatives including a Ferrari California may have been eye-catching in an offbeat sort of way, but there are more important automotive-related stories coming out from Tunisia.

It has been reported by several news agencies that Tunisians are also destroying random vehicles made by Kia, Fiat, Porsche and other makers. The reason? Because the companies that distribute them are controlled by members of the ruling family. Now, in light of all the latest developments, many international automakers are reviewing their business ties to the extended family of Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali, according to the Financial Times.

The daily newspaper said that up until now, the country's car market, which totaled just under 60,000 units in 2010, was heavily regulated by its trade ministry that favored importers controlled one way or another by relatives of the former president or his wife, Leila Trabelsi.

Companies controlled or owned by the family members of the ousted presidential couple include:

-Ford, which sells cars in Tunisia through a company partially owned by Belhassen Trabelsi, the former president’s brother-in-law;

-Ennakl, a dealer for Porsche, Volkswagen, Audi, and Seat controlled by Mohamed Sakher al-Materi, the president’s son-in-law;

-Kia, which distributes its models through City Cars, part of the El Materi Princess Holding, another company controlled by the former president’s son-in-law, Mohamed Sakher al-Materi;

-Le Moteur, which acts as an importer for several companies including Mercedes-Benz and Fiat, and is owned by Marouane Mabrouk, the deposed president’s son-in-law;

-Peugeot, which is represented by Stafim, a company in which Mehdi Belgaid – said to be engaged to Halima Ben Ali, the former president’s daughter – owns a stake;

Some carmakers such as Audi have stopped exporting their cars to the country because they are not sure if they would clear customs as well for their safety once they arrive on the dealer lots. The financial daily quoted Audi as saying; “We will have to look at whether we can continue doing business with this partner and whether they are the right partner for us. ”

Ford said it also looking into the matter and reassessing ties with its Tunisian importer, while Mercedes-Benz said it found no wrongdoing on behalf of Le Moteur but will monitor the situation. A Peugeot spokesman said the automaker will wait to see what the new government will do with companies associated with the president's family.

Other carmakers, including Kia and Porsche, said that for the time being, they will continue to do business as usual with their partners. Porsche in particular said it has no plans to change its arrangement with Ennaki “as long as the company is operational and paying for cars”.

The newspaper said that Fiat "would not comment on its business in Tunisia, or its local partner."

Source: Financial Times