French Polynesia leader questioned in graft probe

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Veteran French Polynesia leader Gaston Flosse, an ally of former president Jacques Chirac, was questioned in a graft probe Friday after losing his parliamentary immunity, officials said.

Paris - Veteran French Polynesia leader Gaston Flosse, an ally of former president Jacques Chirac, was questioned in a graft probe Friday after losing his parliamentary immunity, officials said.

The 78-year-old French senator, who served four terms as head of the French Pacific territory between 1984 and 2008, was held by financial investigators in Paris who questioned him during an 11-hour detention.

A member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's right-wing majority, Flosse is alleged to have been involved in the embezzlement of some EUR 1.5 million (USD 2.1 mln) from the Polynesian post and telecoms office.

The probe, one of several in which Flosse could now face questioning, was launched after a damning report by Polynesia's public finance watchdog, the CTC, on the use of state funds and award of contracts under Flosse's rule.

Flosse's former personal secretary, Melba Ortas, is one of seven people charged over the case.

Others include the post and telecom firm's former director Jeffrey Salmon, the former head of its board Alphonse Teriierooiterai, and Hubert Haddad, head of an advertising firm that promoted the Polynesian telephone book.

The French Senate on Wednesday voted to partially lift Flosse's immunity, authorising him to be held for questioning for up to 48 hours, following a request from a judge in Papeete that was backed by the justice ministry.

A source close to the investigation said Friday night that Flosse was held from 7:00 am (0500 GMT) until 6:00 pm.

Judges in Papeete will decide on 23 July whether to try Flosse over allegations that he used public money to buy influence in Polynesia by bribing politicians, unionists, journalists and others throughout the 1990s.

In February, the politician was handed a one-year suspended jail sentence for using public money to pay for a banquet after losing a 2004 election race.

He was charged in April with obstructing the CTC's efforts to look into an intelligence service he had set up.

French investigators recently searched Flosse's mansion in Paris as part of a probe into the conditions of its purchase.

Flosse is also expected to be questioned in connection with the 1997 disappearance of a journalist, Jean-Pascal Couraud, who went missing after asking questions about Chirac's financial affairs.

France annexed the South Pacific archipelago of 115 islands, now home to about 265,000 people, in the late 19th century.

AFP / Expatica

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