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Corruption probe continues

PAPEÉTE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Mar. 17, 2010) - Investigating judges cross-examined Tahiti's French senator, Gaston Flosse, and French businessman Hubert Haddad for two hours Tuesday in connection with a political corruption case.

The questioning followed a first 6-hr Flosse-Haddad cross-examination last December.

Flosse and Haddad are the key figures among 13 people who have been indicted in a long, ongoing judicial investigation into political corruption in Tahiti over the past some 20 years. During that time, Flosse was Tahiti's president from 1984-2004.

The investigation focuses on the French Polynesia Office des Postes et Télécommunications (OPT), involving according to the French national daily newspaper Le Figaro, "at least 492 million" French Pacific francs (US$5.3m/€3.5m) that evaporated.

Some of the money allegedly was for Haddad's advertising firm, 2H Group, which had the ad accounts for the OPT's yearly telephone book, Air Tahiti Nui's in-flight magazine and Tahiti Nui Television (TNTV). All three are government-controlled operations.

Sen. Flosse was indicted on Sept. 30, 2009 on charges of receiving bribes, the misuse of corporate assets and complicity in the destruction of evidence in connection with the investigation of the French Polynesia Office des Postes et Télécommunications (OPT).

The 78-year-old Senator was first sent to jail Nov. 9 after the French Senate lifted its parliamentary immunity.

Papeete Appeals Court Judge Olivier Aimot ordered his release Nov. 25. But a panel of appellate judges then ruled to return him to prison Dec. 2. They claimed this was necessary for the ongoing judicial investigation.

The Papeete Court then ordered the release of Gaston Flosse from Tahiti's Nuutania Prison Dec. 23.

Besides his elected post as French senator, Flosse is also one of the 57 representatives in the French Polynesia Assembly.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated case, Melba Ortas, Flosse's secretary, has been held in custody for 26 hours in Papeete.

This could be linked to the investigation about the disappearance of local journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud in 1997, the two daily newspapers "La Dépêche de Tahiti" and "Les Nouvelles de Tahiti" reported.

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