Former New Caledonia president Martin sentenced to jail
New Caledonia's former president Harold Martin gets jail sentence in OPT contract case.
New Caledonia's criminal court has sentenced a former president, Harold Martin, to two years in jail, of which one year is suspended, over the way he awarded a large contract to an associate.
The court found Martin guilty of favouritism over the allocation of a 29-million US dollar contract to an associate.
Walter Zweifel told Don Wiseman that the ruling has stunned many.
WALTER ZWEIFEL: Harold Martin was the board chairman of the publicly owned OPT telecommunications company five years ago when a major G3 contract was up for grabs. It went to a company of an associate, Jean Marc Bruel, in apparent defiance of other advice from other board members. Here the court ruled that it wass favouritism, and hence the severe penalty. Both Martin and Bruel have been given jail sentences, Martin is banned from holding public office for five years and canot vote for five years. Bruel was given a three-year prison term plus an 80,000 US dollar fine and banned from running a business. His company has been ordered to pay a 450,000 US dollar fine and to be dissolved.
DON WISEMAN: What has the reaction been?
WZ: Harold Martin says he doesn't understand the decision and he will appeal. He says he has not profitted personally from the contract which he says he pushed in the OPT's interest. He has described this as a political process and not one based on law. His lawyer said even before the trial that any conviction would be challenged in the court of appeal, and should there be another setback, he will take the matter to France's highest court. All this is likely to take a couple of years.
DW: Where does this claim of it being a political process come from?
WZ: Harold Martin said already at the time of the investigation. He alleged that many magistrates had turned against France's former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and therefore some may have been annoyed that he is one of Mr Sarkozy's friends. The inference that the political situation in Paris determines justice in the colonies is not new - in French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse blamed the cascade of court cases he faced on the arrival of Mr Sarkozy.
DW: How did the companies who lost out in the deal react?
WZ: One lawyer says the ruling opens a new era in New Caledonia, meaning this is now the end of decades of cozy deal between those in power and those at the top of business. He says such acts will now lead to the Camp Est prison. New Caledonia is a small place and a conflict of interest can easily arise. Jacques Lafleur, the undisputed top politician of the late 20th century, was seen as a master of tying together such interests. Many other top leaders have been accused of abusing their position. For example another former president, Philippe Gomes, was in court but was cleared of having given a big contract to his private company. And the last president Cynthia Ligeard has been embroiled in a political row over an allegedly secret plan with the powerful nickel mining companies.
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