Former Tahiti president in court for alleged spying
Former French Polynesian president Gaston Flosse, in Tahiti's criminal court for alleged spying and abuse of public funds.
French Polynesia's criminal court has been told that the surveillance by a defunct espionage service was only conducted in public and was therefore legal.
The service was operational between 1997 and 2004 and reported to the then president Gaston Flosse, who is among eight people charged with violating the privacy of a range of individuals.
Walter Zweifel reports.
Flosse's defence lawyer, Francois Quinquis, has failed in a last minute bid to stop the trial and he told local television that his client did nothing wrong.
FRANCOIS QUINQUIS: The term espionage is totally inappropriate. You could maybe have a view about intelligence but again, political intelligence is, quite obviously, not forbidden.
The case goes back to a complaint lodged by Flosse's rival Oscar Temaru ten years ago but he withdrew it once the two formed a short-lived alliance. A separate complaint was lodged by the publisher of Tahiti Pacifique, Alex du Prel, who alleges that by running the unit, Flosse misused US$10-million of public funds. And he says nothing of the unit's work is left.
ALEX DU PREL: They produced testimony that it took them three days to burn stuff in a drum, all the photos, documents and so on, all the equivalent was put in a van and there are several testimonies to that effect.
A journalist and opposition politician at the time, Sabrina Birk, says her movements were often tracked and she was harassed, but all evidence has been destroyed. She points out that the espionage unit was linked to Flosse's now disbanded militia whose members often frightened her as they acted with impunity.
SABRINA BIRK: He managed to have a pass or key that managed to let him come into my house, he entered into my room in fact, and I did this 'Haere Rapae, e taparahi vau ia oe' [get out of my house, I'm going to beat you]' and the guy thought there was a man in the room and he backed out and then I jumped on the door and locked it again.
Alex du Prel says while there are no documents, former agents have been questioned as part of the inquiry.
ALEX DU PREL: The funny thing about this trial is that all the proof that is being presented by the court are all the statements that the members of this supposedly illegal spy service are the best foundation to prove that there was such illegality.
The activities of the unit was tacitly condoned by the French government as it supplied intelligence officers to run the spying unit. Sabrina Birk says there should be consequences for what has been done and that Flosse should acknowledge the transgressions.
SABRINA BIRK: This is what he did the worst to our people, was to intimidate us and to try and keep us silent so that we don't do our job as a journalist, that we don't find the truth, that we don't express our freedom.
Three years ago, Flosse was convicted for obstructing the examination of the case and he was fined 16,000 US dollars for destroying the evidence. Now the court has to decide whether Flosse did violate anybody's privacy and if he misused public funds. Should Flosse get convicted, it won't change his career as he is already banned from public office because of a corruption conviction given last year.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: