France under fire for ‘manipulated’ ousting of Temaru from Assembly

Former French Polynesian President Oscar Temaru joins Daniel Goa, president of Union Caledonienne (UC) and FLNKS spokesperson at a festival for independence at Ponerihouen, New Caledonia, earlier this month. Image: Nic Maclellan

By RNZ Pacific

French Polynesia’s pro-independence opposition has continued to attack the French government and judiciary for removing its leader Oscar Temaru from the Territorial Assembly.

After last week’s French court ruling that he had breached election campaign rules, Temaru was today absent from the Assembly debate for the first time in 32 years.

The Tavini Huiraatira party’s Antony Geros accused the judiciary of being manipulated by the government in Paris which he said acted to punish Temaru for taking all living French presidents to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

READ MORE: French Polynesian party lashes out at France over court ruling

NEW CALEDONIA OR KANAKY? THE INDEPENDENCE VOTE

The legal action alleges that by ordering nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific, the presidents committed a crime against humanity.

Geros also raised last week’s decision of the Court of Cassation, France’s highest court, which quashed the 1959 conviction of the pro-independence leader Pouvanaa a Oopa who had been jailed for eight years.

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Geros said only an independent judiciary could help the families hit by the consequences of the nuclear tests.

A total of 193 nuclear tests were detonated at the French Polynesian atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa over three decades between 1966 and 1996.

Temaru also visited New Caledonia earlier this month advocating support for the Kanak campaign for independence.

Temaru’s seat has now gone to the Tavini’s Cecile Mercier.

New Caledonia faces a vote on independence this Sunday under the provisions of the 1988 Matignon and 1998 Noumea accords after unrest and demands for independence in the 1980s.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Tahiti’s Salmon fined for defaming president with ‘vote buying’ claim

Tahiti President Edouard Fritch wins election defamation case against rival … awarded US$2000 pay out in damages. Image: French Polynesia govt

By RNZ Pacific

A senior French Polynesian politician has been fined for defaming the president Edouard Fritch during the election campaign in April.

The criminal court in Tahiti found the Territorial Assembly leader of the opposition Tahoeraa Huiraatira party, Geffry Salmon, guilty and fined him US$5,000.

He has also been ordered to pay US$2,000 to Fritch who wanted to be paid US$20,000 in compensation.

Fritch took legal action in June, saying Salmon defamed him at a news conference with claims that his party had been giving out subsidies to buy votes.

Fritch’s lawyer said Tahoeraa never lodged any complaint about any alleged abuse of funds but instead Salmon tried to damage his rivals.

Next month, Fritch is due in court with his predecessor as president, Gaston Flosse, with both accused of abusing public funds.

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In the last term, Fritch was twice convicted for corruption.

This article is republished under the Pacific Media Centre’s content partnership with Radio New Zealand.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Tong Sang voted in as new French Polynesia assembly president

Territorial President Gaston Tong Sang … elected two months after being given a one-year suspended jail sentence for abusing public funds. Image: RNZ Pacific

French Polynesia’s Territorial Assembly has elected the ruling Tapura Huiraatira party’s Gaston Tong Sang as its new assembly president for a five-year term, reports RNZ Pacific.

He secured the support of the 38 Tapura members, who have two-thirds of all seats in the chamber.

His election comes two months after he was given a one-year suspended jail sentence and a fine of $US20,000 for abusing public funds.

The conviction related to his actions as president in the previous decade when he led the To Tatou Aia Party.

Gaston Tong Sang remains the mayor of Bora Bora.

The only other candidate in the election was the Tahoeraa Huiraatira’s Teura Iriti.

Iriti had been a member of the French Senate for several months until a French court annulled her election three years ago because a march by her party’s supporters to the polling station on election day was deemed to amount to undue pressure.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Tahiti incumbent defies corruption cloud to easily win election

Tahitian President Edouard Fritch … increased majority as pro-independence groups take a hit. Image: Hawai’an Public Radio/Alchetron

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

In the elections held in French Polynesia over the weekend, the ruling party of President Edouard Fritch scored a decisive victory and will return to power with an expanded majority.

Neal Conan of Hawai’i Public Radio reports:

After a campaign where corruption emerged as a major issue, the party with no fewer than nine candidates convicted of corruption won easily.

President Edouard Fritch – a two-time convict – and his Tapura Huiraatira won just under 50 percent of the vote.

The rival Tāhōʻēraʻa Huiraʻatira received about 30 percent, while the pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira got 20 percent. Turnout was 67 percent.

French Polynesia’s election law automatically awards 19 seats in the National Legislature to the party that comes first, which guarantees the winners a ruling majority. The legislature then elects one of its own as President.

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Former President Gaston Flosse was barred from running because of his corruption convictions, but still campaigned as the leader of the Tāhōʻēraʻa and tried to label President Fritch as unacceptably corrupt and indifferent to high unemployment.

‘Thieves and colonialists’
Veteran independence advocate Oscar Temaru described both Fritch and Flosse as “thieves and colonialists”, but his pro-independence party will again be relegated to third place in the legislature.

At present, hopes to revive the independence movement in French Polynesia rest on the referendum to be held in New Caledonia on November 4.

But two opinion polls released six months ahead of that referendum show strong majorities opposed to independence from France.

President Emmanuel Macron on France visited the territory last week to bolster pro-French sentiments.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Macron begins New Caledonia visit as independence vote looms

The Kanak flag and the French Tricolour …. an independence vote is due on November 4. Image: RNZ Pacific

Pacific Media Centre Newsdesk

French President Emmanuel Macron today began a three-day visit to New Caledonia – six months before the territory’s vote on independence from France, reports RNZ Pacific.

Macron is due to meet a wide range of political leaders and visit the northern province and the Loyalty Islands province.

President Macron … first French president to visit Ouvea since the 1988 hostage crisis. Image: PMC file

He is also due to become the first French president to visit Ouvea where 19 pro-independence Kanak protesters and three French soldiers were killed in a 1988 hostage crisis but there is opposition to him visiting the tomb of the slain Kanaks.

READ MORE: Pacific Islands Forum monitoring team in Tahiti for elections

As part of his programme, Macron will return the original deed with which France took possession of New Caledonia in 1853.

Macron is also due to address the Pacific Community whose headquarters is in Noumea.

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Tomorrow, anti-independence supporters are expected to rally in Noumea to express their pride at being French.

The territorial self-determination referendum is due on November 4.

Tahiti elections
In Pape’ete, a team from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has arrived as observers for the second round of the Tahitian general election, reports RNZ Pacific.

The Forum secretariat said it was the first time the Forum had sent observers to the territory since French Polynesia became a full member in 2016.

Marshall Islands chief electoral commissioner Daniel Andrew and a PNG diplomat in Fiji Jacinta Tony-Barron make up the team which is supported by secretariat officials.

They will observe pre-polling, polling and counting for the second round which will take place on Sunday.

Forum Secretary-General Dame Meg Taylor said such exchanges were great opportunities for election officials across the region to share knowledge, experiences and best practice.

After last month’s first round of voting there have been claims of irregularities in Bora Bora, Makemo and Huahine.

A complaint has been lodged seeking to annul the Huahine election.

In 2004, the results in the Society Islands were annulled and fresh elections were then held in early 2005.

This article has been republished as part of the content sharing agreement between Radio New Zealand and the AUT Pacific Media Centre.

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MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

20 years on, the disturbing case of journalist ‘JPK’ is still unsolved

MIL OSI – Source: Evening Report Arts and Media

Headline: 20 years on, the disturbing case of journalist ‘JPK’ is still unsolved

By Walter Zweifel of RNZ Pacific

It’s 20 years today since French Polynesian journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud vanished.

“JPK”, as he was widely known, left no trace, no body has ever been found. There is conjecture and speculation – and there are denials. Murder charges have been laid and they have been dropped.

Police investigations have been running since 2004 but for the lawyers of those suspected of kidnapping JPK “it’s more likely that yeti exists than Jean-Paul Couraud was murdered.”

Today, members of his family are at his empty grave in Punaaiua, remembering a son, a father, a brother.

They remain convinced that in 1997 he was the target of foul play and killed for researching the affairs of the then strongman and president Gaston Flosse.

Until 2004, Couraud’s family was led to believe that he might have committed suicide.

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However, amid the political upheaval of that year, a former spy of the now disbanded intelligence service of Flosse told a minister that the journalist had been drowned.

Hit like a bomb
When the claim by Vetea Guilloux was repeated in the Territorial Assembly in the middle of a no-confidence debate into the pro-independence Temaru government, it hit like a bomb.

According to Guillox, two employees of the GIP militia, Tino Mara and Tutu Manate, kidnapped Couraud, maltreated him and after tying breeze blocks onto his body, they dumped him into the depth of sea between Tahiti and Moorea

The GIP was an unarmed militia led by Rere Puputauki, who in turn reported to Gaston Flosse.

Another branch of the Flosse apparatus at the time was an intelligence unit run by a former French spy, whose tasks included keeping an eye on political rivals and Gaston Flosse’s mistresses.

Vetea Guilloux was in the intelligence unit, his father had a top job within the GIP.

In the feverish political climate in late 2004, Guilloux was immediately arrested, tried, sentenced and jailed for slander.

The Couraud family, however, lodged a formal murder complaint, triggering an investigation which is yet to be concluded.

Switched sides
Gaston Flosse, meanwhile, succeeded in getting a Temaru supporter to switch sides and oust his first pro-independence government.

Defying the assembly leadership, he arranged a presidential election to be returned to power and while giving a policy speech, he swore that he had never ordered anybody’s death.

Investigative journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud … drowned by assassins? The headstone on his empty grave in Punaaiua, Tahiti, says: 20 May 1960-15 December 1997 – “he struggled for more democracy, more justice and against all forms of corruption.” Image: AFP/RNZ Pacific

Like many observers, the publisher of the Tahiti Pacifique monthly Alex du Prel noted Flosse’s surprising declaration.

“He said he never gave orders for anybody to kill and everybody believed him. But he didn’t say nobody ever was killed.”

The case had an echo even in France where national television networks dispatched reporters to Tahiti. Also, Le Monde paid close attention to the JPK affair.

Gaston Flosse claimed he had been defamed by France 3 and took unsuccessful court action against its chief executive and a reporter.

He also pursued Le Monde for linking him to the 1997 disappearance of Jean-Pascal Couraud.

Slow investigation
JPK’s brother, Philippe Couraud, noted that the investigations were slow.

“The problem we had was between 2004 and 2007, three years, and it was very difficult. At this time, I was sure that the Justice did not want to help us. I mean, not Justice but the men who were there. So that’s why at this time, everything was organised to stop the enquiries.

JPK’s mother told TV reporters at the time about her disappointment with the judicial machinery, suggesting there had been obstruction.

Alex du Prel confirmed that: “We had state attorneys who admitted themselves that they had been appointed to protect Mr Flosse, and they did that job quite well actually.”

As a former minister in the Chirac government, Gaston Flosse had enjoyed cordial ties with Paris for a couple of decades, not least because he was a staunch supporter of the French nuclear weapons testing regime.

Things changed in 2007 when Jacques Chirac was replaced as president by Nicolas Sarkozy.

Pent up corruption complaints started to find their way through the courts and now Gaston Flosse is ineligible to hold public office having also become the most sentenced politician in contemporary France.

Murder charges
In 2013, the JPK affair saw murder charges being brought against Tutu Manate and Tino Mara after investigators surreptitiously recorded their phone conversations.

A year later, the charges were dropped over an apparent technicality.

“The phone taps were illegal because they didn’t have the right signature and the right explanation when they were ordered, so that kind of robs the smoking gun”, said du Prel.

Rere Puputauki failed to challenge the murder charge in time.

What is left are kidnapping charges against the three GIP men.

As for a possible motive for a killing, Philippe Couraud said he believed his brother had documents that could have damaged Gaston Flosse and his associates in Paris.

JPK had a career at the local newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti and became its editor but was forced to quit under pressure from Flosse.

He subsequently joined the opposition politician Boris Leontieff as an advisor and worked for him when he disappeared.

Sensitive information
His brother Philippe said JPK had sensitive information.

“We discovered a paper of 12 to 13 pages which was in possession of my brother, and in fact it was because he had this information that he was killed,” he said.

Du Prel said the papers pointed to money being channelled via Japan, possibly to an account held by Jacques Chirac.

“At the time, they were looking into financing over in Tahiti and they saw that part of the money had gone to Japan. So the local representative to the state attorney had asked Paris for help to define where the money would have gone in Japan and he got a message back saying stop, do not enquire in that direction, you’re getting close to the top of the state. That, I published at the time and nobody ever denied it.

French media reports however said Japanese authorities had found no record of any bank account alleged to have been held by Chirac.

This came despite a French secret service report in 1996 mentioning it.

Whatever the possible reason for JPK’s disappearance, Philippe Couraud remains convinced his brother was killed.

“We are absolutely certain that my brother has been assassinated, and everybody who can read the files has the same conclusion,” he said.

Twenty years later and after 13 years of investigations, the only person taken court has been Vetea Guilloux for claiming JPK had been killed.

No wonder, there is the French expression ‘justice á deux vitesse’ – two-speed justice.

Walter Zweifel is a senior journalist with RNZ Pacific and a specialist in French Polynesian affairs. This article had been republished with permission.

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