Temaru detention fuels Tahiti war of words

12:46 pm on 4 December 2018

There has been a war of words in French Polynesia after the opposition's Oscar Temaru faced his first ever formal police interrogation.

Mr Temaru is being investigated for alleged abuse of public funds which his party said was part of a French scheme to politically assassinate him.

Media statement claims French political assassination of Oscar Temaru

Media statement claims French political assassination of Oscar Temaru Photo: supplied

Both the French High Commissioner and the public prosecutor firmly rejected the claim.

The pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira Party suggests that a sinister plot is being played out on its veteran leader Oscar Temaru who only weeks ago lost his seat in the assembly over campaign account irregularities.

By declaring him ineligible for a year, the French court defied the expert opinion and caused an outcry which has been compounded with his 12-hour detention last week.

Speaking to reporters after his release, Mr Temaru was adamant he had done nothing illegal.

"There may be problems with documents that needed to be filled in but there was nothing illegal, no misuse of public funds," he said.

His party, however, claimed that the case was tied to a French plot to eliminate him politically.

The Tavini viewed this as payback for referring all living French presidents to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity over France's nuclear weapons tests.

The French High Commission in Papeete, French Polynesia

The French High Commission in Papeete, French Polynesia Photo: RNZI

For the French High Commissioner Rene Bidal the accusations had gone too far.

He published a statement:

"I regret this posturing which disseminates the idea of a 'conspiracy' against a man. This idea is not based on anything but, as the attacks keep coming, I wish to make public my personal reaction to prevent my silence giving credence to it," he wrote.

The public prosecutor Herve Leroy pointed out that questioning Mr Temaru was the result of the public account reports that raised questions about spending in his town of Faa'a.

The probe was to ascertain how public money was spent as hundreds of thousand of dollars had been allocated to Radio Tefana, which is a station asserting sovereignty rights and denouncing nuclear weapons tests.

At a news conference, Mr Leroy felt compelled to clarify that he was independent.

"To be clear, I have received no instructions from anyone nor anywhere," he said.

The latest ructions come only weeks after France quashed the conviction of the late Tahitian pro-independence leader Pouvanaa o Oopa.

He had been jailed and exiled in the late 1950s for opposing the French colonial rulers, which has prompted the Tavini to see parallels with the predicament of Mr Temaru.

For the French High Commissioner Rene Brial, these perceived links are not valid.

"Let's stop the fantasies, we are not in the era of the full powers of General de Gaulle, a period to which the Tavini statements always send us back by making shortcuts in history," he wrote.

But the Tavini camp insists that apart from the Pouvanaa case, the French state has arranged affairs to its liking.

A point of contention is the revision of the autonomy statute which both the government and Paris favour.

The opposition is against it while claiming to have majority support.

But with the electoral system with its bonus seats, Paris allows a minority to be able to dominate.

This has spawned an opposition plot to consider the joint resignation of three assembly members.

Oscar Temaru and Tavini Huiraatira's Gaston Flosse.

Oscar Temaru and Tavini Huiraatira's Gaston Flosse. Photo: RNZ Pacific / AFP

According to the law, this would trigger a fresh general election.

But the Tavini's Moetai Brotherson has been hesitant.

"The question that needs to be asked now is: Will there be a simple reading of the law or is there an opportunity for an interpretation to be released by the central government which is different?. We've seen this in the past, we've seen with the curtains of Mahina, there are many examples. The central government has a way of manoeuvring in its assessments to correlate with those it wants to favour," he said.

In 2004, Paris annulled the pro-independence side's election victory in Tahiti by declaring that voters were unduly influenced to vote for it because the election booth curtains in Mahina were blue.

Blue was the colour of the pro-independence party while the pro-French ruling party at the time used orange.

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Photo: RNZ

Paris courts also threw out a challenge to the motion which ousted the Oscar Temaru-led coalition government in 2004.

It had been signed by six members only and not the legally required 12.

Talking to the media at the weekend, Oscar Temaru also doubted that the ploy for fresh election could work.

"We are not in control of the rules of the game. The decision-making belongs to the French state. That's why the first thing in case of independence will be that we will be judged in the name of the Maohi people," he said.

For the time being, no charges have been laid over the radio funding issue.

And with no early election in sight, Mr Temaru says he will circulate a petition locally and internationally to back campaigns against France over the legacy of its nuclear weapons tests.

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Photo: RNZ

He says this means reminding the public of the complaints laid against French presidents with the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity.

He says this also applies to a similar complaint by the Maohi Protestant Church lodged with the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

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