21 Oct 2005

Restrictions in French Polynesian probe eased

3:37 pm on 21 October 2005

Judicial authorities in French Polynesia have eased restrictions imposed on two former ministers who are under investigation for their role in a controversial purchase of an atoll three years ago.

The opposition Tahoeraa Huiraatira Party says the former vice-president, Edouard Fritch, and the former lands minister, Gaston Tong Sang, are again allowed to communicate with each other.

As part of the probe into alleged fraud, the two were banned from talking to each other and to the party leader, Gaston Flosse.

The party has welcomed the judge's decision because it allows the two politicians to retake their seats in the assembly.

The probe relates to them buying Anuanuraro atoll from a leading pearl producer, Robert Wan, for the government.

They 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.

Mr Flosse has said primary responsibility rests with the finance minister of the time, Georges Puchon, who has rejected the claim.

Mr Flosse says the atoll was bought to prevent it being sold to foreigners who reportedly offered Mr Wan more than what the government paid.