27 Jun 2013

Murder charges in French Polynesia's JPK case

5:31 pm on 27 June 2013

Two men in French Polynesia have been charged with kidnapping and murder in connection with the 1997 disappearance of a local journalist, Jean-Pascal Couraud, who was known under the acronym JPK.

They are alleged to have kidnapped and drowned the journalist off Tahiti in an operation of now disbanded presidential GIP militia.

These are the first charges since a murder complaint was lodged by his family nine years ago.

Walter Zweifel asked the publisher of the Tahiti-Pacifique monthly, Alex du Prel, why it took so long for this breakthrough.

ALEX DU PREL: All the sabotage of the enquiries that were done before, because there was a regular sabotage by the state attorney... Every time someone showed up and had something to say, they would be either indirectly threatened or some people even got court cases mounted against them. So what we're having now is a clean instruction of the dossier enquiry into what's happening. Of course, if you add it all up, this is what the lawyers of the JPK family did. They just put everything together and put all the proof in. When you look at it, it seems almost sure that there was foul play there.

WALTER ZWEIFEL: If there was foul play and if these two men are presumed to be the killers, how come they are still free?

ADP: Well, the charges have been kind of in the open now since 2004, so that's 9 years. These are actually Tahitians who wouldn't escape, you know? If any talking has been done, it's been done a long time. Mr Puputauki, who still has to be heard on the matter, they've all been questioned. And they had nine years to accord their testimonies to make sure that they would sound the same. So there's no sense to put them now in a corner. They're under what they call 'controle judiciaire' - that means they're not allowed to communicate with other persons involved in the case, and they're not allowed to leave the territory and they have to report every week to the gendarmerie to tell the gendarmes, 'Look, I'm still here'.

WZ: Is there any sense of a timeline of how this will progress? When will Puputauki be questioned? Is there going to be a formal arrest of any of these people suspected of this killing?

ADP: Well, what I think is the fact is that a week ago there have been major changes in the members of the judiciary. You had three judges that went on retirement. These were kind of the old team. There could be a suspicion of smothering it all. And it's a week after the departure of all these magistrates, these judges, that suddenly this has been done. So maybe to avoid this, Mr Redonnet, the instruction judge, has postponed this 'mis en examen' until these judges and the president of the appeals court and so on have left the territory. This is my private opinion.