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PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Feb. 14, 2008) - Papeéte court judges ruled Wednesday to keep political leader and mayor Emile Vernaudon in prison, but decided to free Alphonse Teriierooiterai, the former board chairman of the French Polynesia Office des Postes et Télécommunications (OPT).

Both men were remanded in custody to Tahiti’s prison on December 4 in connection with a judicial investigation into the management of the OPT when Vernaudon was the government’s post minister.

The investigation involves the alleged embezzlement of an estimated 114 million French Pacific francs (US$1.4 million) in public funds between March 2005 and May 2006.

Meanwhile, French language daily newspaper Les Nouvelles de Tahiti reported Wednesday that two other persons were under investigation. This probe involves the alleged spending of more than six million French Pacific francs (US$75,000) on behalf of the ODT at a luxury hotel on the island of Tahiti.

Wednesday’s decision to keep Vernaudon in prison and free Teriierooiterai was made by a panel of judges in the French court system’s investigation chamber, or "Chambre de l’instruction."

Vernaudon, 64, was recently returned to the Nuutania Prison after having spent Christmas and New Year’s Day in the hospital undergoing treatment and observation following a heart problem.

Wednesday was the latest of three attempts by his lawyer to obtain a court’s approval for the liberation of the mayor of Tahiti’s north coast Commune of Mahina (pop 14,369).

Although Teriierooiterai was ordered freed, his lawyer said he remains under judicial supervision. Teriierooiterai was expected to spend his first night outside prison Wednesday after two months of incarceration.

Vernaudon’s imprisonment meant the leader of the pro-autonomy Ai’a Api political party could not participate in the campaigning during the just concluded two rounds of voting for the 57 seats in the French Polynesia Assembly.

Vernaudon had been scheduled a high place on the list of Windward Islands candidates for Gaston Tong Sang’s eight-party To Tatou Ai’a coalition. Instead, his No. 4 place was given to his partner, Heifara Izal. She was among the 27 coalition candidates to win seats in the assembly during the second round of voting on Sunday.

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