Paris court overturns statute of limitation in Tahiti corruption case

Former Tahiti president Gaston Flosse (left) and businessman Hubert Haddad
Former Tahiti president Gaston Flosse (left) and businessman Hubert Haddad . . . telecommunications kickbacks case revived. Image: Tahiti-Infos

RNZ Pacific

France’s highest court has revived French Polynesia’s largest corruption case, which had been closed almost more than three years ago.

Eight people, including former president Gaston Flosse, were given jail sentences by Tahiti’s criminal court in 2013 for their roles in a kickback scheme to secure public sector contracts from the OPT telecommunications company.

On appeal in 2015, the case was thrown out over a technicality. In 2019, judicial authorities in Tahiti dismissed efforts to revisit the matter, saying the statute of limitations applied in the affair.

However, the court in Paris has now annulled their decision, saying that the relevant texts had been misunderstood.

The alleged misuse of public funds centred on French businessman Hubert Haddad paying US$2 million in kickbacks over 12 years to Flosse and his party to get the OPT contracts.

During the investigations and trial, it was established that Flosse’s secretary Melba Ortas used to collect the money as regular cash payments from Haddad’s local company, and Flosse admitted disbursing the money for private expenses.

While investigations were underway in 2009, Flosse was jailed for three weeks.

Imprisoned for three months
Haddad, who had been arrested in France, was also imprisoned for three months in Tahiti as part of the investigations, but on paying a US$800,000 bail, he secured his release.

The former head of the OPT and Air Tahiti, Nui Geffry Salmon, spent six months in preventive detention until he was freed on US$120,000 bail.

At their trial in 2013, Flosse and Haddad were given five-year prison sentences and fined US$110,000, but they appealed.

Flosse’s lawyers failed, however, in their bid to get France’s highest court to move the appeal case away from Tahiti after claiming they wouldn’t get a fair trial.

The criminal court also ordered that the OPT be reimbursed US$5.6 million.

Four months after the verdict, Flosse was elected president and within months, the lawyer acting for the OPT, James Lau, was dismissed.

Lau noted that those convicted had taken over key aspects of the impending appeal trial, likening the case to a “mafia-style affair”.

Procedural errors
In the appeal court in 2015, the case was thrown out because of procedural errors by the prosecution.

Attempts by the prosecution to revisit the case were quashed in 2019 when the case was closed.

The lawyer acting for Flosse, Francois Quinquis, said the latest decision in Paris to allow the affair to be retested is no surprise as the court tried to save the case.

He told Tahiti-infos he wished the prosecution good luck as the decisions reached so far had made the affair inextricable.

Haddad’s lawyer said the case would end once there were no protagonists left.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ. 

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