6 Jul 2005

Air Tahiti Nui confirms advancing money to win release of three men arrested in New York

7:11 pm on 6 July 2005

Air Tahiti Nui has confirmed that it made available 2,500 US dollars to pay fines and lawyers in New York for three young French Polynesian men arrested over a drugs offence.

The airline issued a statement, denying claims by an assembly member, Hiro Tefaarere, that 3 million US dollars in taxpayers funds were paid to the US authorities in April to win the release of the three men caught with hard drugs.

The three had been part of a delegation, led by President Oscar Temaru, to promote the inaugural flight between New York and Tahiti.

Mr Tefaarere, who is a former interim president of the assembly, has disputed the claim by the tourism minister that the airline spent only 2,500 dollars to win their release.

Air Tahiti Nui has described Mr Tefaarere's claims as defamatory and says the airline is not subsidising drug trafficking.