FRENCH POLYNESIA FRAUD PROBE WIDENS

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Oct. 2) – A French police fraud squad from Paris has extended its probe into a controversial French Polynesia government purchase of a Tuamotu atoll in 2002 from Robert Wan, the world’s biggest producer of Tahitian cultured pearls.

French daily newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti reported the development Saturday in a front-page lead story about investigators from the financial division of the Central Direction of the Criminal Investigation Department in Paris.

Wan was the third person to be questioned in the case in three days. The other two, former Flosse government ministers Edouard Fritch and Gaston Tong Song, were briefly held for questioning for alleged misuse of public funds in April 2002 when the Flosse government approved a US$8.8 million purchase of Wan’s atoll of Anuanuraro.

[PIR editor’s note: The Tuamotu Islands are a group of islands in the eastern part of French Polynesia of which Anuanuraro atoll (located southeast of the island of Tahiti) is included.]

Les Nouvelles’ article followed Friday’s report by French daily newspaper La Dépêche de Tahiti that Wan had been placed in police custody Wednesday.

Examining Magistrate Anne Barruol had ordered Wan held for questioning in the government’s purchase of the atoll and in the French Polynesia Office des Postes et Télécommunications’ (OPT’s) purchase from Wan of the catalog of local music producing firm of Océane Productions.

Les Nouvelles said Wan first signed a licensing contract with the OPT in September 2000 for 49 million French Pacific francs (US$506,722 today). Two years later, on Sept. 5, 2002, the OPT bought Océane Productions’ music catalog with purchasing rights for 130 million French Pacific francs (US$1.3 million today), according to Les Nouvelles.

The two newspapers’ reports last week made public what had previously been a low-keyed investigation conducted by the Paris-based police financial fraud squad.

That investigation also involves two top-level members of former French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse’s government - Vice President Fritch and Land Affairs Minister Tong Song. In Flosse’s absence, Fritch chaired the Government Council meeting in April 2002 that approved the purchase of Wan’s atoll. Tong Sang, still mayor of Bora Bora, was then head of the government’s Land Evaluation Commission, which increased the value of the 214-hectare (528.8-acre) former pearl farming atoll from 150 million French Pacific francs to 850 million French Pacific francs, or nearly six times the original value, both newspapers reported. At today’s exchange rate, the price increased from US$1.55 million to US$8.8 million.

The police investigation stems from a John Doe complaint filed last October by French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru and Emile Vernaudon, who was minister of development of the archipelagoes, administrative decentralization, sports, new technologies communications and the postal system. The complaint was filed during the last days of Temaru’s shortened first term in office from June to October 2004.

Friday’s report in La Dépêche de Tahiti stated that former OPT General Director Geffry Salmon had been questioned by the fraud squad in the OPT’s purchase of Océane Productions’ music catalog.

October 4, 2005

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