Middleeast

Inside a dictator's palace: Fake diplomas, sports cars, stuffed leopard

Published 1132 GMT (1932 HKT) December 22, 2012
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The interior of the former presidential palace of deposed Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who fled the country with his family in January 2011 amid a popular revolution. The palace is in Sidi Dhrif, in a seafront suburb of capital city, Tunis. Like many Tunisians, journalist Youssef Gaigi had never seen images of the palace before visiting it to report on the state auction of the former dictator's confiscated belongings. The auction takes place Sunday. He told CNN: "It was full of extravagance and extreme luxury and bad taste. All these signs of power ... Nobody could afford to have such things in Tunisia, unless they were the president -- and not just any president, but a dictator." Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
A shot of the palace's main living room. About 42,000 items belonging to the former president and his family were confiscated by the state. Those with heritage or historical value, those bearing the emblem of Tunisia, and the former president's personal documents and letters are not being offered for sale. Items valued at less than $6,444 (10,000 Tunisian dinars) can be bought directly, while more expensive items will be put up for auction. Funds raised will go into government coffers to assist with social programs, Tunisian finance ministry spokeswoman Oumaya Sahraoui told CNN. Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
The president's belongings lie where they were left, such as this DVD of the Hollywood film "Mr & Mrs Smith" starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Tunisian journalist Youssef Gaigi said: "It was very interesting because you enter into the private life of a president and discover a human side which we didn't have access to -- didn't actually didn't think he had. We thought he was either superhuman or a tyrant." Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
Two framed degree certificates hang in Ben Ali's personal study -- the top one is a 1997 award from the University of Ancona, Italy, and underneath a doctorate in political science awarded by Kensington University in 1999. The U.S. institution was shut down by the state of California for granting diplomas by mail and having "little or no rigor or credible academic standards." Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
A stuffed jaguar is set amid foliage inside the house next to a toy dinosaur and dragon. Exotic cats were a feature of the Ben Ali family homes -- in a diplomatic cable published by Wikileaks, a former U.S. ambassador recounted a dinner at the seafront home of Ben Ali's daughter, Nesrine, where she kept a caged pet tiger. Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
A child's playground in the palace, which would have been used by Ben Ali's son and heir, Mohamed, aged seven or eight. Books on parenting were found inside the palace, along with a biography of former French first lady Carla Bruni and a guide to media law. Paul Rosenfeld/Tunisia Live
From left to right, a Porsche, Lamborghini and Jaguar sit in an army yard where other cars belonging to Ben Ali and his family are being held. More than 30 cars are up for auction including a Mercedes McLaren sports car, Bentleys, Aston Martins and semi-armored Cadillac limousines, along with yachts, jet skis and motorbikes. Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
A dressing table belonging to former Tunisian first lady Leila Ben Ali. Auction organizers said the portrait of the first lady, along with a number of others in the house, had been covered up due to privacy considerations. Her jewelry, clothes and handbags will be on sale at the auction, along with confiscated items including the family's furniture, antiques, crockery, paintings and electronics. Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
A giant projector displays pages of the Quran in the master bedroom. Items from the former presidential palace will be exhibited in a seafront Tunis hotel once owned by Ben Ali, with attendees required to buy a ticket to attend. Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
The palace's main bathroom, which remains as it was when the Ben Ali family abandoned it. The item hanging from the post to the left of the mirror reads: "La reine" (the queen). Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive
A football table stands in front of marble carvings in the palace. Some of the artifacts in the palace include gifts from foreign leaders, and cloaks and jewellery belonging to the former king of Tunisia, which will be retained by Tunisia's Ministry of Culture. Paul Rosenfeld/TunisiaLive