19 Mar 2008

Tong Sang again questioned in French Polynesian atoll sale probe

3:47 pm on 19 March 2008

The French Polynesian opposition leader, Gaston Tong Sang, is again being questioned in a long-running probe into alleged fraud over the sale of Anuanuraro atoll.

Mr Tong Sang was the lands minister in the Gaston Flosse led government which bought the atoll from the territory's leading pearl producer in 2002 allegedly for five times its value.

Mr Tong Sang was first questioned three years ago and subsequently banned from meeting or talking to Edouard Fritch, who was the vice president at the time of the purchase.

The ban was eased after a few days because it would have prevented the two men from continuing to serve in the assembly.

Mr Tong Sang has denied any wrongdoing and he has said he acted on Mr Flosse's instructions.

Mr Flosse has said that it was the then finance minister, Georges Puchon, who approved the purchase.

Meanwhile, the newly elected mayor of Mahina, Emile Vernaudon, has been questioned in a fresh investigation.

He has been in jail since December as part of another probe into the alleged abuse of public funds.

Mr Vernaudon retained office despite being forced to campaign from within the Tahiti prison.