Temaru case against French prosecutor to be moved away from Tahiti

1:13 pm on 23 June 2020

The court in French Polynesia has declined to make a ruling in the case brought by the pro-independence leader Oscar Temaru against the prosecutor Herve Leroy, accused of breaching Mr Temaru's basic rights.

Oscar Temaru, mayor of Faaa since 1983

Oscar Temaru, mayor of Faaa since 1983 Photo: supplied FB

The president of the court said a decision was first to be made on whether to move the case to France or New Caledonia in order to guarantee impartiality.

A decision will be announced in two days.

Mr Temaru sought a preliminary court ruling on 15 June after Mr Leroy explained why he ordered the seizure of Mr Temaru's savings earlier this month, suggesting in his statement that Mr Temaru was convicted of a crime.

Given that the matter against Mr Temaru was still before the court, his lawyer accused the prosecutor of violating the principle of presumed innocence.

Today's hearing was arranged because a week ago Mr Leroy's lawyer had secured a one-week delay to familiarise himself with the case.

The lawyer argued that Mr Leroy had a right to a fair trial, which he said was a problem within the context of the judiciary in French Polynesia where the judges and the prosecution are part of the same unit.

The judge concurred that the court's impartiality could be questioned and suggested the case be continued in either France or New Caledonia.

Mr Leroy's lawyer however queried the suitability of New Caledonia because the support Mr Temaru had among pro-independence parties there could cloud a trial, which would therefore make Paris the preferable option.

Mr Temaru on the other side repeatedly said he wanted the case to be dealt with in French Polynesia.

Supporters of Oscar Temaru outside Papeete courts

Supporters of Oscar Temaru outside Papeete courts Photo: supplied

His lawyer said Mr Temaru had gone to court invoking the process of attaining a preliminary ruling, which would be denied if the case was again delayed by moving to a court outside of Tahiti.

He said should the court opt for shifting the case to Paris, Mr Temaru and his defence team should be given $US20000 to cover the costs of travel to Paris.

Furthermore, it was argued, that for the time being there were no flights to Paris or Noumea.

In New Caledonia, whose borders are largely closed, anyone admitted is obliged to go into two weeks of quarantine because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Outside the court, Moetai Brotherson, who is a member of the French and the French Polynesian legislature, said once back in Paris he would seek a meeting with the justice ministry and the ombudsman over comments by the president of the court in Papeete, who said she would be disciplined by Paris if she failed to move the trial away from Tahiti.

Mr Brotherson, who belongs to the pro-independence Tavini Huiraatira Party, also said it was planned to take the entire affair go the European Court of Human Rights and to the ombudsman in France.

Last week, a Paris-based lawyer acting for Mr Temaru David Koubbi had already taken his client's treatment in Tahiti to France's High Council for the Judiciary which is 22-member agency ruling on professional ethics.

Mr Leroy was taken to court after he refused to receive Mr Temaru who on 8 June launched an unlimited hunger strike outside the Papeete court in protest at the seizure of $US100000 from his savings account.

He had wanted to see Mr Leroy who however declined any meeting and instead issued a statement.

Mr Leroy said he took the action as to prevent the money being moved and added that the seizure had subsequently been approved by a judge who considered the measure against Mr Temaru not to be disproportionate.

Mr Temaru insisted that there had been no final verdict in last year's court case which prompted Mr Temaru to take Mr Leroy to court for an immediate preliminary hearing.

Mr Temaru then suspended his hunger strike after five days while awaiting the court hearing on 15 June.

However, the court deferred the case until today and now the substantive hearing appears to be deferred until a venue has been determined.

Former president of French Polynesia Oscar Temaru at memorial dedicated to nuclear test victims

Former president of French Polynesia Oscar Temaru at memorial dedicated to nuclear test victims Photo: AFP

At the beginning of June, Mr Leroy had ordered the seizure of Mr Temaru's money as part of a new probe launched this year asserting Mr Temaru had misspent public funds.

The probe focuses on doubts about the legality of the Faaa municipal council paying for his defence in last year's trial over the funding of a community broadcaster, Radio Tefana.

This new investigation also implied that all the lawyers involved in his defence were at risk of being liable for receiving misappropriated public funds.

One defence lawyer said he was shocked the defence was being implicated while the appeal of last year's verdict was still pending.

He said to interrogate lawyers in an ongoing case amounted to a massive violation of the right to a defence.

In last year's trial, Mr Temaru was given a suspended six-month prison sentence after the court found that Radio Tefana benefited his Tavini Huiraatira Party.

The case is being appealed and the defence wants the case to be thrown out, saying the prosecution failed to cite a single incident of propaganda.

The former board chair of Radio Tefana said it would have been easier to blow up the station with dynamite instead of having a trial.

The new chair, Heinui Le Caill, said the station's $US1 million fine was five times its budget, meaning the station was unable to pay and would have to close if the appeal case was lost.

In a separate move, Mr Temaru is awaiting a ruling from the judicial authorities after asking them in an appeal to reverse the judge's order to seize his money.

Taking funds is usually only considered if there is a flight risk.

Mr Temaru, who was recently re-elected mayor of Faaa of 37 years, said he was treated like a drug dealer absconding to South America.

Mr Temaru said the real reason for his conviction was that in the eyes of France he committed treason by taking French presidents to the International Criminal Court over nuclear weapons tests and accusing them of crimes against humanity.

He said France had engaged in judicial harassment and was abusing its power to politically assassinate him.

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