Authorities in Tunisia have arrested a controversial presidential candidate and founder of a major private television channel, Nabil Karoui, according to his political party.
The 56-year-old is one of the main challengers contesting the September 15 election following the death of President Beji Caid Essebsi last month.
Karoui was charged with money laundering in early July shortly after stating his intention to stand in the polls, but has remained a leading candidate.
“About 15 police cars blocked the road and rushed to Nabil Karoui’s car before armed civilian police asked him to come with them, saying they had instructions to arrest him,” Oussama Khlifi, of the media mogul’s Qalb Tounes party, said on Friday.
Private radio station Mosaique FM quoted a judicial official confirming that an arrest warrant had been issued against Karoui and his brother Ghazi for money laundering.
Authorities did not immediately confirm his arrest.
His apparent arrest came the same day as electoral and media authorities announced they had banned three local outlets, including his popular Nessma TV, from reporting on the presidential election campaign, after they had broadcast “illegally” without licences.
Karoui has been accused by regulators and some politicians of using Nessma to bolster his political ambitions.
Launched in 2007, the station has played up his charity work with footage of him handing out food and clothing. On Friday, Nessma TV channel reported he had been arrested as he travelled to the capital, Tunis.
He was nearly removed from the race in June when Parliament passed an amended electoral code that would bar any candidate who handed out “favours in cash or in-kind” in the year before the vote.
But at the time, Essebsi neither rejected nor enacted the bill, leaving the door open for Karoui to run.
Karoui was an active supporter of Essebsi’s election in 2014 and has become the fiercest rival of Prime Minister Youssef Chahed, who is also running for president.
The media tycoon has previously said he is being targeted by “attempts to undermine his growing popularity”.
The country’s election commission has approved 26 candidates, including two women and former President Moncef Marzouki.
Tunisia’s president controls foreign and defence policy, governing alongside a prime minister chosen by Parliament who has authority over domestic affairs.