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France Urged To Act In Case Of Missing Journalist


Govt Urged To Act In Case Of Missing Journalist

Reporters Without Borders today called on the French government, especially justice minister Rachida Dati, to renew efforts to find out what happened to Jean-Pascal Couraud ("JPK"), editor of the French Polynesia daily Les Nouvelles de Tahiti, who vanished 10 years ago on 15 December 1997.

"Recent developments suggest the enquiry into his presumed death can now move forward," it said. "It is urgent, morally and legally, that all elements in the case are revealed. The French authorities must not provide an argument for those who think French Polynesia is a place where shady deals are done or the law can be flouted.

"Along with JPK's family and his support committee, we hope that investigations will be above board and that his journalistic work will be considered a possible motive for his disappearance.

"Couraud was looking into reported transfers of money to former French President Jacques Chirac to a Japanese bank account through one in French Polynesia. The sensitive nature of this and JPK's disappearance make it even more imperative to discover the truth."

The civil parties in the case finally managed in September this year to get a copy of the case-file which strengthened their belief that JPK was murdered. The Papeete investigating magistrate agreed on 20 November to add to the case-file items seized at the home of Gen Philippe Rondot in connection with the Clearstream corruption case and Chirac's Japanese bank account, and also to take Judge Philippe Stelmach off the case.

The lawyer for the civil parties, Max Gatti, says the discovery on Gen Rondot's computer hard-drive of two documents about a bank account of former French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse proves that the material JPK said he had was a threat.

JPK's former lawyer, Jean-Dominique Des Arcis, said in May that the journalist had details of transfers of funds between a large French Polynesia firm and a Chirac bank account. The lawyer will get a court hearing on 17 December and the civil parties have been authorised to check whether a link can be made between this material and the lawsuit they filed in 2004 for "murder and accessory to murder."

Stelmach, who had many times asked to be removed as judge in charge of the case and had told the civil parties last July he wanted to close it, has been replaced by Judge Jean-François Redonnet.

Justice Minister Dati, petitioned by JPK's family and support committee, said in mid-November that the ministry's criminal investigation department would examine the case "very carefully."

The public prosecutor moved in November to dismiss the case without waiting for a ruling by the Papeete investigating magistrate. The civil parties must urgently be given a chance to present their evidence to a court and the Clearstream documents must be handed over as soon as possible, Reporters Without Borders said.

JPK vanished on 15 December 1997 and his body has never been found. A Papeete court ruled in October 2002 that he had killed himself and closed the case.

It was reopened in 2004 after a former member of Flosse's GIP personal security force, Vetea Guilloux, said he had seen GIP members kill Couraud. He later retracted his statement. JPK's family filed a suit against "persons unknown" in December 2004 and was granted civil-party status for charges of "murder" and "accessory to murder."

The French TV station France Inter will show a report on 16 December (in its programme "Interception," from 09:00-10:00) by journalist Benoît Collombat about Couraud's disappearance called Sharks in murky waters.

ENDS

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