TAHITI GOVERNMENT TO SUE FRENCH OFFICIAL

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Jan. 23, 2008) – Five days before the first round of French Polynesia Assembly general election voting, Oscar Temaru's coalition party announced Tuesday it is taking French Overseas State Secretary Christian Estrosi to court.

The charge is that Estrosi allegedly tried to illegally influence voters in the upcoming two rounds of voting for the 57 French Polynesia Assembly seats. The first round of voting is on Sunday, followed by a second round on Feb. 10.

And in a separate legal action announced on a busy day of politically oriented court decisions and other political-legal developments Tuesday, French Polynesia President Temaru's coalition also announced another court action.

The two legal attacks were announced during a press conference held by French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru, Finance Minister Antony Géros and Tourism Minister Marc Collins.

The charge against Estrosi focuses on the French government official's fourth 2007 visit to Tahiti in December when he signed a sewage treatment agreement directly with the City of Papeete, according to UPLD leaders. They claimed this was an illegal attempt to try and influence voters.

The UPLD also criticized Estrosi's alleged position on the creation of a separate community for French Polynesia's northernmost Marquesas Islands. This was but one of several claims of Estrosi's alleged interference in French Polynesia government affairs and thinly veiled criticism of the Temaru government, according to Géros.

"These are practices worthy of another era," Temaru said. "This is the first time that someone has filed a complaint against a state (junior) minister. Mr. Estrosi should not believe himself to be above the law. When one sees what's happening to Jacques Chirac or to Dominique de Villepin, why not also Estrosi?" Temaru said. He was referring to former French President Chirac and his Prime Minister de Villepin.

Temaru's Union for Democracy (UPLD) coalition said the unrelated second court action focused on outer islands politicians close to former Tahiti President Gaston Tong Sang, the leader of an opposition coalition in Sunday's election.

This court action focuses on the French Polynesia Archipelagos Development Fund (FDA), which the UPLD claims finished last year with a one billion French Pacific franc (US$12.5 million/€8.38 million) deficit. Several FDA actions are likely to end up as alleged misuse of public funds, or even theft, according to the Temaru government's finance minister, Antony Géros.

Tuesday begun with a front page article in the French language daily newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti announcing that Gaston Flosse, a French senator and leader of Tahiti's biggest opposition political party, will have to meet on March 11, 14 and 20 with an examining magistrate from the Papeete courthouse.

The meetings relate to the ongoing judicial investigation into the operation of the French Polynesia presidency from 1991-2004, during which time Flosse was president. The investigation specifically involves the operation of the now non-existent GIP, an intervention group, and the government's purchase of the Tuamotu atoll of Anuanuraro from Robert Wan, the world's biggest producer of Tahitian cultured pearls, Les Nouvelles reported.

Meanwhile, a Papeete court announced Tuesday a suspended prison sentence for the leader of Gaston Flosse's opposition party list of candidates for the eight assembly seats in the Leeward Islands.

Lana Tetuanui received a one year suspended prison sentence, a 500,000 French Pacific franc (US$6,250/€4,190) fine and two years of ineligibility for holding public office. Her husband, Cyril, the former mayor of Tumara'a on the Leeward Island of Raiatea, received an 18-month suspended prison sentence, a 500,000-franc fine and four years of ineligibility for holding public office. Cyril is a backup candidate on Sunday's election ballot.

Both were charged with illegal use of public funds and forgery stemming from events in 2002 when Cyril was mayor. He was charged with using town hall employees to put a roof on his sister in-law's meeting house and using French Polynesia government workers to create an embankment and an easement on his private property damaged by tropical cyclone Martin in 1997.

The court case against Cyril also involved an association that obtained in 2002 800,000 French Pacific francs (US$10,000/€6,704) in funds from the Tumara'a Town Council and 11 million francs (US$137,500/€92,180) from the French Polynesia government.

The court's investigation revealed that the head of the association was a figurehead for Mayor Tetuanui, who actually made all of the decisions. They included having the association pay certain town expenses, such as the insurance for a building of the town's festival committee, which was run by the mayor's wife, Lana Tetuanui.

Other checks from the association paid for repairs on privately owned motor vehicle, an airline ticket and hotel costs in France for the wife of the town's fifth deputy mayor.

A check for 617,000 French Pacific francs (US$7,713/€5,170) was cashed by Lana Tetuanui, which she defended Tuesday by saying it as a reimbursement of an advance she had spent to finance a school book satchel and toothbrush campaign for Tumara'a's school children.

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