12 Oct 2005

French Polynesian atoll sale probe tightened

7:34 pm on 12 October 2005

Judicial authorities in French Polynesia have upheld a judge's decision to probe two former ministers for their role in a controversial purchase of an atoll three years ago.

The former vice-president, Edouard Fritch, and the former lands minister, Gaston Tong Sang, are under police investigation for alleged abuse of public funds.

They bought Anuanuraro atoll from a leading pearl producer, Robert Wan, for the government and paid 9 million US dollars while its reported value was five times less.

Mr Wan is also under investigation for the deal as is the former president, Gaston Flosse, who has so far refused to be questioned.

The politicians' lawyer says they will take the matter to higher courts.

The opposition Tahoeraa Huiraatira Party has said the purchase was approved by all relevant authorities and aimed at saving it from being bought by foreigners .