5 Oct 2011

French Polynesia phantom job case goes to appeal

2:50 pm on 5 October 2011

French Polynesia's criminal court has delivered its verdict in the trial of 87 people accused of abusing public funds for a network of phantom jobs.

Several politicians have been given jail sentences but they will all appeal.

Central to the affair was a former president Gaston Flosse who ran an illicitly funded system to advance the policies of his ruling Tahoeraa Huiraatira Party.

The defence says this has been a political process.

Walter Zweifel reports.


The trial in May was the biggest of its kind in French legal history, implicating a total of 87 people, including top politicians, former and current mayors, unionists, journalists and sports administrators.

Now the criminal court has announced the sentences, some of which exceed what was demanded by the prosecution.

31 of the accused have been acquitted while the other 56 have been ordered to collectively reimburse 5.7 million US dollars to the public purse.

Gaston Flosse, who is one the territory's two senators, has been given a four-year jail sentence and been fined 110,000 US dollars.

A former president of the assembly, Justin Arapari, has been given a two-year prison sentence.

The territory's two members of the French assembly, Michel Buillard and Bruno Sandras, have also been fined and given suspended prison sentences.

The leader of the Ia Ora Te Fenua political group, Jean-Christophe Bouissou, has been given a similar sentence.

Apart from being fines, the politicians have been banned from holding public office for up to three years.

Also sentenced have been two leading unionists, Jean-Marie Yan Tu and Cyril Legayec, have also bee given suspended jail sentences.

They were among the unionists, journalists and sports administrators on Mr Flosse's payroll at the height of his power in the 1990s and the beginning of the last decade.

A leading assembly member of the Tahoeraa, Rene Temeharo, who has also been convicted, has told reporters outside the court that he is surprised at the ruling and says there is a justice running at two speeds.

The defence had claimed that the case was aimed at ruining the lives of nearly 100 people who had contracts with the presidency approved by successive French high commissioners.

Yves Piriou, who is one of the defence lawyers, says one doesn't have to be a Nobel prize winner in nuclear physics to understand that this was a political process.

He says the situation is simple and told public radio that all will be appealed.

Observers say should the appeal court uphold the sentences, the territory will be in for an unprecedented upheaval of the political and social scene.