Ben Ali's sister, husband ghost staffers: German magazine

Ben Ali's sister, husband ghost staffers: German magazine

The couple, who are under investigation for possible money laundering by German authorities, have vanished. Police have searched the luxury home south of Frankfurt where they stayed three or four times a year.

Hayet Ben Ali, 58, had a soft job in the Frankfurt office of Tunisair, the Tunisian airline, said Der Spiegel.

The weekly magazine, in a story that is to appear in print Monday, quoted the Tunisair office chief saying he had not seen her in the office for the past two and a half years.

Fathi R., 61, her husband, only showed up for work occasionally for a few hours at the Tunisian Tourist Commission in Frankfurt, former colleagues said, although he was paid a generous salary for years.

His official title made him responsible for contacts with German travel agencies, but he several times claimed to German business contacts that he was the Tunisian tourism minister, some said.

German police in Darmstadt, south of Frankfurt, checked the home, described by Der Spiegel as a 200-square-metre townhouse and gathered evidence Thursday. Earlier news reports said someone had previously vandalized the premises.

According to Der Spiegel, German residency records show the missing couple as living there since the mid-1990s.

Neighbours said the roller shutters had been mostly closed, indicating no one had been at home.

"They showed up maybe three or four times a year with seven or eight great big suitcases, stayed for a few days and left again with all the luggage," one neighbour reportedly said. Police are now looking at their bank accounts and hunting for other assets.

The former president is believed to have taken refuge in Saudi Arabia.