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Disappeared Politician's Widow Demands Inquiry

Widow Demands Inquiry Into Politician's Disappearance

By Jason Brown, editor of Avaiki Nius Agency

RAROTONGA (ANA/Pacific Media Watch): Fallout is spreading from the alleged 1997 drowning murder of Tahiti-based investigative journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud.

Now calls are being made for an inquiry into the 2002 disappearance of a politician closely linked with Couraud.

Interim president of the Assembly of French Polynesia, Hiro Tefaarere, is supporting a request for an official inquiry into the 2002 disappearance of a centrist politician.

Boris Léontieff and two of his top party members are still missing, presumed long dead, after taking off to the outer islands on campaign trip in a small plane.

No wreckage or any other sign of the plane was found.

Now his wife, Céline Léontieff, has written to Tefaarere requesting the assembly approves a commission of inquiry into his disappearance.

"Mr President," she wrote, "next 23rd May will be the third anniversary of the disappearance of my husband, Mr. Boris Léontieff and of his friends, in the Tuamotu group. During the last three years, they have of course been warmly honoured. But hardly anything moved with regards to discovery of the truth."

Léontieff says she is starting to lose patience with the lack of inquiry into the disappearance of her husband and Lucien Kimitete and Arsen Tuairau, senior members of Fetia Api, the New Star party.

Especially since police reopened an inquiry into the 1997 disappearance of investigative journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud and "shadowy" activities by GIP, the Polynesian Intervention Group, a security and disaster relief group under former president Gaston Flosse.

Couraud advised Léontieff on communications after being sacked as editor from one of two daily papers in Papeete, as well as continuing his work as an investigative journalist.

Allegations by former GIP security guard Tevea Guilloux about the drowning murder of Couraud reinforce Léontieff's suspicions that her husband's disappearance was no accident.

In any case, she says, there has been no evidence found to confirm theories of officials who said it was an accident.

This is why she is turning from justice to a second institution, the Assembly.

"Interests of the elected representatives are so obvious in this case as to raise the question: why was there no commission of inquiry set up earlier?"

She called on Assembly deputies to show "solidarity" with their former colleague, solidarity being a strong official theme throughout the French administrative system.

Tefaarere responded "quickly" to the April 2 letter, according to Agence Tahiti Presse, on 6 April saying he looked "favourably" on the request and that the form of inquiry would depend only on what is jurisdictionally possible.

Under the new coalition government headed by national president Oscar Temaru and elected on 15 February, Fetia Api member Patricia Jennings is the new Justice Minister.

Three years ago, at the time of Léontieff's disappearance, questions were raised about the role of the French navy.

Opposition media reported that, in previous plane crashes, the military has welcomed media coverage of operations to recover wreckage for any investigation, including through the use of nuclear submarines.
No such search and recovery mission was mounted for the Léontieff flight.

French High Commission officials in Papeete denied there was any less effort put into searches for the missing flight.



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media based in Sydney, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG), the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, and Community Communications Online (c2o).

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