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  • French Polynesia
  • Lorenz Gonschor (bio)

The frequent making and unmaking of political alliances by opportunist politicians, resulting in regularly occurring ousters of governments since 2004, continued during the review period, with one successful motion of no confidence in late 2009 and another change of majority in the assembly in 2010. Yet none of these events represented anything substantially new. The ongoing chaotic situation continued to annoy the French government, which by mid-2010 was planning yet another revision of the territory's organic law. [End Page 215] Meanwhile, the economic situation is further deteriorating.

Before this inevitable round of the political debacle began, however, public attention in Tahiti during the beginning of the review period was turned for a while to the long overdue efforts by the French judiciary to examine some of the earlier misdeeds of leading politicians. Most prominently, the investigation of corruption charges against Senator Gaston Flosse intensified in the second half of 2009 at a pace never seen before. (Former President Flosse held office as the country's top elected official under various titles 1982-1987; 1991-2004; Nov 2004-Feb 2005; Feb-April 2008.) Among other things, Flosse was accused of receiving bribes amounting to several million euros from French businessman Hubert Haddad. Because some of the payments were apparently masked as payments for advertisements in the French Polynesia telephone directory, as well as in the onboard magazine of the territorial airline Air Tahiti Nui, the corruption plot became known as the "phone book affair."

In connection with this affair, various government departments, banks, offices, residences, and the headquarters of Flosse's party, Tahoeraa Huiraatira (People's Rally), were searched by the authorities, incriminating materials were seized, and enough evidence was gathered to arrest several officials and businessmen and place them in detention. By July 2009, the detained included Geffry Salmon, the former director of the territorial post office and Air Tahiti Nui; Flosse's secretary Melba Ortas; Haddad's business partner Michel Yonker; and Haddad himself. Another former postal director, Alphonse Teriierooiterai, who had been detained earlier, was released in July pending further investigations (TPM, Aug 2009).

However, the principal suspect in the affair, Flosse himself, was initially protected from investigations because of his parliamentary immunity as a senator. In late June, the prosecutor's office formally demanded the lifting of Flosse's immunity, and on 22 July, the Senate granted a partial lift so that he could be interrogated for a short while in Paris a few days later. Because increasing evidence was accumulating, in late August the prosecutor's office once more demanded the lifting of the senator's immunity (TPM, Aug 2010, Sept 2010).

The intensification of these judicial inquiries coincided with the appointment of José Thorel as the new public prosecutor on 31 August. During his first few months in office, Thorel proved that he was much more determined to prosecute political corruption cases than his predecessor Jean Bianconi, whom some suspected of being a crony of former French President Jacques Chirac and therefore rather inclined to protect Flosse and his collaborators (TPM, March 2010).

Besides the "phone book affair," judicial investigations were also conducted into the activities of the former presidential intelligence service, staffed with retired French secret service agents, which Flosse had illegally set up during his presidency in order to carry out surveillance and spying operations on his political opponents during the 1990s and early 2000s (TPM, Sept 2009). [End Page 216]

A third matter, dubbed the "sushi affair," involved the embezzlement of public funds to pay for an exclusive party hosted in the presidential palace to celebrate the expected election victory of Tahoeraa in May 2004 (a miscalculation, since the elections were ultimately won by Flosse's opponents and marked the end of his semi-authoritarian regime). On 24 September, for this "affair," Flosse received a one-year suspended prison sentence, a fine of more than one million CFP francs (US$10,000), and one year of ineligibility for public office, to be effective immediately (meaning he would lose his position as senator, and thereby his immunity). However, the senator's attorneys managed to obtain a delay by lodging a second appeal (TPM, Oct 2009).



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