4 Aug 2008

Mayor of Mahina in French Polynesia may lose job over accounts

5:54 am on 4 August 2008

The mayor of Mahina in French Polynesia, Emile Vernaudon, who made history by being elected while in jail, may lose his office after his campaign accounts were rejected.

The French accounts office has referred questions about the contributions to a Tahiti court which could lead to fresh elections for the mayoralty, held by Mr Vernaudon since the 1970's.

He was re-elected in March, despite being in prison, as part of an on going investigation into alleged fraud and theft during his time as government minister.

The Mahina council installed him in office by placing a ribbon around his photograph in the mayor's chair.

However, his four months in jail prevented him from possible re-election as an assembly member in February.

His wife stood for the assembly seat instead and was elected to join the ruling coalition of Gaston Tong Sang.

In April, just days after leaving prison, the appeal court in Tahiti gave him a suspended one-year jail sentence and a fine of 40,000 US dollars as well as depriving him of his civic rights for a year for his role in a corrupt land deal.

The ruling is being appealed in Paris.

Mr Vernaudon is the president of the Aia Api Party and a key member of the ruling To Tatou Aia coalition which is the local partner of France's ruling UMP Party.