18 Apr 2011

French Polynesia's biggest trial to open in Papeete

6:25 am on 18 April 2011

The biggest trial in French Polynesia's history is due to begin in Papeete this week when 86 people are to appear in the criminal court over alleged phantom jobs at the presidency in the 1990s.

The person at the centre of the case is a veteran politician, Gaston Flosse, who is alleged to have misspent millions of dollars of public funds by keeping journalists, unionists and clergymen on his administration's payroll to support his party.

The practice was discovered in 1995 but it has taken more than 15 years for the investigations to lead to this trial which is the biggest of its kind in French legal history.

However, the defence team has suggested that it may yet invoke a new French constitutionality clause to challenge the accusations which could then delay or stop the trial.

Last month, one of Mr Flosse's lawyers acting for the former French president, Jacques Chirac, used that clause to give him a reprieve on charges of channelling public money into phantom jobs for political cronies while he was mayor of Paris between 1977 and 1995.