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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Sept. 29) – French Polynesia's former Vice-President Edouard Fritch and former lands minister Gaston Tong Sang were briefly detained and questioned earlier this week by French police as part of an inquiry into alleged abuse of public funds when they served under former President Gaston Flosse.

The investigation follows a complaint lodged in October last year by current President Oscar Temaru, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti reports.

Since then, a low-key investigation conducted by Paris-based police financial fraud unit has been underway.

On Tuesday, on the basis of a court warrant, Fritch, who is also Flosse's son-in-law, and Tong Sang were brought before local French judge Anne Barruol and briefly questioned.

They were later released, but were asked not to leave the French Pacific territory.

The investigation focuses on the purchase in April 2002 of a 217-island atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago, east of the main island of Tahiti, on behalf of the government of French Polynesia.

It is alleged the price – more than 7 million euros - paid to the former owner, black pearl tycoon and powerful local businessman Robert Wan, was close to six times the property’s value according to market assessments.

The decision to purchase the atoll was made at a cabinet meeting chaired by Fritch in March 2002 while Flosse was on an overseas trip.

Flosse's party, pro-French Tahoeraa Huiraatira, first lost the elections in Mat 2004, then came back to power between October 2004 and March 2005, to be replaced by a coalition government headed by Temaru.

September 30, 2005

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