Tunisia's President Kais Saied accused 460 businessmen of embezzlement as he launched a crackdown on corruption, days after grabbing power in what his opponents have dubbed a "coup".
Saied, who suspended parliament for 30 days and seized all executive powers on Sunday, slammed the "bad economic choices" made in recent years, during a meeting with a leader of the employers' federation UTICA.
In his comments late Wednesday, the president singled out for criticism "those who plunder public money".
Saied accused 460 businessmen of owing 13.5 billion dinars ($4.9 billion) to the state, citing the findings of a commission of inquiry into graft under former dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
"This money must be returned to the Tunisian people," he said, adding that he intends to offer the businessmen "judicial arbitration".
In exchange for dropping proceedings, the reimbursed sums of money would be injected into less developed parts of Tunisia.
Saied also asked traders and wholesalers to "lower prices" in a country where soaring inflation has eaten away at the purchasing power of consumers.
He also called for a revival of phosphate production, one of the country's few natural resources often used for agricultural fertiliser.
Gafsa Phosphate Company (CPG), a former flagship of the Tunisian economy, has seen its production collapse since the 2011 revolution due to a lack of investment and bouts of social unrest.
Saied raised suspicions of corruption that surround the industry, referring to "people in parliament who protect themselves with parliamentary immunity".
The president also announced the establishment of a crisis unit to manage the Covid-19 pandemic, supervised by a senior military officer.
Tunisia is facing a new peak in the pandemic that has provoked the anger of the public in recent weeks.
The North African country of around 12 million people has one of the worst Covid death rates in the world, with 19,000 fatalities linked to the coronavirus.
After months of political crisis, Saied seized power by invoking the constitution.
The move was denounced as a "coup d'etat" by his main opponents, the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party.