TF1 DOCUMENTARY “TROUBLED WATERS IN TAHITI”
PRESENTER 1: And now the story of Jean-Pascale Couraud. He was 37 when he disappeared leaving a family in pain and despair. It was on the 15th December 1997 near Papeete in French Polynesia. Jean Pascale Couraud alias JPK - the initials this journalist signed to vitrolic articles for years, critical of Gaston Flosse - the powerful head of the territory for over 30 years. JPK had become too embarrassing asserts a man today.
His name is Vetea Guilloux, member of the GIP - the Polynesian Intervention Group - set up the day after the protests of 1995. He states that he was part of a spy cell, charged with keeping tabs on opponents of Gaston Flosse. On the 15th of December 1997 he followed Jean-Pascale Couraud. And when he disappeared, Vetea accuses two members of the GIP of kidnapping and killing him after a botched interrogation.
But did Gaston Flosse, former secretary of state, former president of the territorial assembly - did he play a role in the disappearance of this journalist who had become one of his most ferocious opponents? That's what some believe in Tahiti. Notably in the independent camp. Gaston Flosse defends himself peacefully, talking about a smear campaign during a long awaited election to chose the President of French Polynesia. "Troubled waters in Tahiti" is an invesigation by Pierre Eurelle and Damien Vercamere.
TF1 reporters: Jean-Pascale Couraud was a young idealist, born in a country of surf and vahine (women) but consumed by an internal thirst for justice. An angel faced journalist who wanted to overthrow the powerful. A reporter on the daily "Les Nouvelles" in Papeete, Jean-Pascale Couraud aka JPK - his newspaper byline - became the bete noir of Gaston Flosse, president of French Polynesia. JPK disappeared mysteriously seven years ago on the night of 16th or 17th December 1997. He lived on this hill above the cemetary, in Punaavia on the island of Tahiti. It's here that his near and dear, his brother Phillipe choses to remember.
Philippe Couraud: "We never found the body so there is no grave ... nothing. Like others who have lost loved ones, we have no place to grieve. So we have made a place to remember him."
TF1: At that time, did you think of assisination?
Philippe Couraud: "When he disappeared, some did suggest that ..."
TFI: The family lay a complaint of kidnapping. But there is no follow up. For Phillipe, the last possible explanation - Jean Pascale - depressed at the time - committed suicide. He would have taken sleeping pills and drowned at sea, his body taken away by the currents. Francette, Jean-Pascale's mother, never believed it.
Francette Couraud: "On the morning Jean-Pascale disappeared, I got up at 6am. I went out and found the dog sitting on the steps looking out to sea. And he was crying. I said this is impossible. He could not have drowned. It's not possible."
For JPK's mother, the solution to his disappearance lay elsewhere. Her son's job cost him his life.
Francette Couraud: "If there was an injustice he would go mad. He couldn't stand it."
He spoke to you about his battle with Gaston Flosse?
Francette Couraud: "Oh yes! It was difficult not to talk about it! Of course he spoke about it! In Jean-Pascal's mind you can't get more rotten than him."
TFI: Gaston Flosse, the Prince of the Pacific. Since his first election to the presidency of the territorial assembly in 1973, the man has been unquestionable. Pioneer of RPR beside Jacques Chirac, Gaston Flosse has a lot of friends in Paris. In Tahiti, he even formed the GIP, the Polynesian Intervention Group, a service muscled with security civilians in
orange t-shirts. The GIP can assist an isolated atoll affected by a cyclone as well as show a strong arm at the territorial assembly. According to the opposition, they are a private militia. For Jean-Pascale Couraud, Flosse is a constant inquiry. Les Nouvelles is a small independent daily where management give him free rein. Hard hitting editorially, indiscreet inquiries; JPK attacks the Flosse presidency. Dominique Morvan, his colleague at the time, remembers.
Dominique Morvan: "He told me he was attracted to power - not to have it but to understand it. 'I need to understand how it functions' - that is where he wanted to go."
Appointed news editor, JPK decided to hit with a bang. In the spring of 1988, he prints a special Anti-Flosse edition. Thirty pages compiled from articles from the Paris press. Le Monde, VSD, Le Canard Enchainé and Jean-Pascal's own investigation. Pure vitriol from vanilla country. The president is not happy. Gaston Flosse attacks legally and seizes the 10,000 copies of the newspaper. Censorship? JPK, inteviewed at the time by RFO, was convinced.
RFO: Why do you think Gaston Flosse seized the papers?
Jean-Pascale Couraud: “I think you mean - 'why is Gaston Flosse so scared of this special edition?' I think because everything in this edition is true.”
RFO: Since this affair concerns only you, do you have anything else to add?
Jean-Pascale Couraud: “I'd like to thank Mr Gaston Flosse for the incredible publicity he has given this special edition. I'm very worried to see the institutions of the Republic ganging up in this affair, trying to supress the media when they don't like what they hear. It's extremely serious for the future of democracy and freedom in Polynesia.”
TF1: A year after this Flosse/JPK tussle, the newspaper is bought back by the Hersant Group and Jean-Pascale is let go. He joins an opposition party as communications manager and continues his crusade. JPK presses two charges against Flosse. At first, the President is aghast at being called before Paris. At the end of 1994, persuaded that the forces of darkness are working for Gaston Flosse, Jean-Pascale Couraud is scared for the first time.
Dominique Morvan: “He felt followed. He felt a bit threatened. We spoke about it with friends. At least once he thought he was going to have, how would you say it? – 'an accident.' A car had tried to push him over on his motorbike. Before his disappearance he wanted to presss charges again – I think it was the third time.”
TF1: The third time?
Dominique Morvan: “Yes, against Gaston Flosse. I think he had proof ... some documents.”
TF1: What were these documents JPK was working on? To find out, we go to the neighbouring island Moorea, to the editor of Tahiti Pacifique, the only news monthly in the archipelago. The director, editor and photographer in chief Alex Du Prel was a friend and confidant of JPK. Just before he disappeared, Jean-Pascale confided in him that he had found the files on Flosse.
Alex Du Prel: “There were about a dozen of us in the territory who knew that JPK had the archives. Because he had the archives of an old magistrate who had become the director of an office of three politicians. They were Mr Flosse, Mr Henri e De Renault de la Flaverie, and he had files on nearly all the politicians in the country.”
TF1: Henri de la Flaverie, former director of the cabinet pictured here, had photocopied all the transcriptions of the commercial activities of Gaston Flosse, from the acquisition of land in the archipelago to a surprising purchase of arms for a pearl business.
Alex Du Prel: “We called him the Paganini of the photocopier and after he left the territory he gave these archives to Jean-Pascale Couraud.”
TF1: Have you found these files?
Alex Du Prel: “No.”
TF1: did JPK disappear because of these compromising files? That's what one man states today. He's a member of the GIP, the Polynesian Intervention Group so dear to the president. His name is Vetea Guilloux and this is the first time he testifies on television. Vetea states that he has worked for several years in a spy cell in the GIP. Mission? Follow, listen and secretly film political opponents, judges and journalists.
Vetea Guilloux: “I had a bag like this, and put a camera inside. And straps to hold it in place. We had a screen with a relay on the camera.”
TF1: Why was this cell created?
Vetea Guilloux:“It's good for the president to know what is happening – events – what's going to happen. He wanted to be kept informed. And that was our job. To travel around the island, track right and left, and report back information to President Flosse.
TF1: How many people in this spy cell?
Vetea Guilloux: If you count the clean-up cell – we called it the housework team – you can add five guys.
TF1: What is the clean-up cell? The housework team?
Vetea Guilloux: “When a journalist says he is against us then we have to ... it's like when you have head lice. You have to get rid of these lice. So – shut your mouth – and you give us information – everything you know about us – and all.”
TF1: Vetea states that twice at the beginning of 1997 he was detailed to follow JPK. The second time was on the 15th of December and the day was ending.
Vetea Guilloux: “He came out here, and I followed him.”
TF1: Why did you chose that moment to follow Jean-Pascale Couraud?
Vetea Guilloux: “I had orders to follow him wherever he went. And I did it. He arrived over there and I got a call on my mobile. They told me to stop surveillance on JPK. I look in my mirrror to see if my relief is behind me. Because I couldn't see my relief, I decided to continue.”
TF1: So, ignoring the order, Vetea continues to follow JPK. Arriving in the suburbs of Papeete, the journalist parks his 4x4 by the house of Boris Leontieff – one of the opposition – and gets out of the car.
Vetea Guilloux: “I looked in the mirror at what he was doing. I saw him get some files from his car. A pile of seven centimetres. Then I saw him get out of the car. When he closes the door, my view was masked by a white van. In a few seconds I lost him. I couldn't see Jean-Pascale Couraud anymore. Then I see the van pass me and so I follow the van.”
TF1: Even if he did not see it, Vetea is persuaded that JPK is in the white vehicle. He follows the vehicle which is headed directly to the port, and goes into the area reserved for the GIP. Vetea turns around. The next day, Vetea is reported missing. Curious, Vetea discreetly questions two colleagues of the “clean-up” team, Tino Maraa and Tutu Manate.
Vetea Guilloux: “I started by questioning Tino, do you know a journalist named JPK. And the guy told me in Rurutu – oh that pig – we took him to the ocean with four concrete blocks and we threw him in the ocean. He wanted information, if a dossier .. if a file on Flosse ... they attached the hands and feet to four concrete blocks with a rope of 15 and 10 metres. When the rope tightened, they brought him to the surface. And they said – where have you hidden the documents and all? - and he was in agony and they plunged him in again. After three times he started to shit himself. And when he shat himself, they called the others. What should we do? Go to the hospital? Or clean him up? And after ... he disappeared ... dead. Voila.”
TF1: According to Vetea Guilloux, Jean-Pascale Couraud drowned in the ocean off Papeete. His body weighted down by several cement bricks. Two members of the GIP, acting under orders, had tortured a journalist and killed him. A fantasy? When he let go this bombshell at the beginning of October, Vetea was taken into court by gendarmes just 24 hours later and sentenced to three months in a prison farm for false testimony – a bit too rushed for GIP staff who stood by what he said. Anti-Flosse parties take over the story and create a scandal. Vetea Guilloux is freed on appeal after six weeks in prison and the judge demands an inquiry.
What's curious is that the two people implicated by Vetea, Tino Maraa seen here on the right, and Tutu Manate were never questioned by the judiciary. So we set off to the GIP to find Tino and Tutu. There's nearly 700 of them, sailors, dock workers, masons, security, working in Gaston Flosse's empire. The majority are ex-prisoners employed by the president for rehabilitation. We're told that Tino and Tutu are not there. But the second in charge will see us.
Yanick Boosie, Directeur-Adjoint du GIP: “I find it abhorrent that you can accuse two GIP members of assissinating a journalist. Abhorrent! I repeat that we are here for the well being of the people, we work for the country and protect the people of French Polynesia – and it stops there – that's all.”
TF1: And what about those two accused by Vetea Guilloux, Tino Maraa and Tutu Manate?
Yanick Boosie: “They're still working, still attached to the service.”
It is impossible to meet the two accused by Vetea Guilloux, on one of the islands of Rurutu, 1,000 kilometres from Papeete, where Tino is chief, and a champion stone carrier.
At Papeete market we find President Flosse campaigning for the territorial elections to be held on 13th February. The “patron” has dominated politics here for more than 30 years. But this time the campaigning is difficult. The JPK affair has poisioned the debate. Accused by an elected opposition at a full Territorial Assembly of ordering the assissination of a journalist, Gaston Flosse denies everything.
Gaston Flosse: “There is no counter-espionage unit at the GIP. Why would there be? It's absolutely false. It has nothing to do with the GIP. We have an information service. Yes ... for example we follow the campaigns of our political rivals to find out what their speeches are .... and it stops there.”
TF1: What about this declaration by Vetea Guilloux, an ex member of the GIP, who states that not only did he follow JPK but that he was assisinated?
“Yeah – that's absolutely false. The justice system inquired for six, seven years, about the disappearance of JPK and found no case to answer. All that is a fabrication created by the pro-independence people.”
TF1: After the Couraud family pressed charges of assissination an inquiry judge is about to be appointed, seven years after the disappearance, four months after Vetea's revelations all the protagonists will be questioned by the justice system. Vetea Guilloux is perhaps a story-teller – a puppet – but this story is not over yet. To be continued.
Presenter 1: It is in this atmosphere that the elections of the two disputed islands will take place next week. Gaston Flosse and Oscar Temaru face off for the presidency.
french - english translation: stephen stehlin director tagata pasifika tvnz
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Lack of official action continues to haunt the memory of Jean-Pascale Couraud, a Tahiti journalist who disappeared without trace on Monday 15th December 1997.
In the seven years since then, no one has been arrested in relation with his disappearance.
French police have dragged their feet through one of their customarily slow motion investigations. Any evidence still in existence has probably long been buried.
As backround, former Frrench magistrate Eric Halphen has been quoted by the BBC as saying that justice does not exist in France. It is also in short supply around the rest of the world.
JPK's colleagues in Tahiti - apart from a few brave exceptions - have bowed their heads too afraid to do their job and report what happened.
And what hasn't.
Similar problems exist across the language divide, with English speaking journalists yet to grasp the fact that a regional colleague lived and died defending freedoms they take for granted from corrupt politicians, with many pointing the finger at former president Gaston Flosse.
Questions about JPK directed towards the executive of the Pacific Islands News Association have yet to received a response.
This web log is aimed at providing a central location for updates about the investigation into the disappearance and presumed death of JPK.
Like many of us in an often stressful profession, JPK suffered from depression and there are suggestions he may have committed suicide by sleeping pills and drowning.
Jean Pascale Couraud was last seen holding a fat folder, said to be full of incriminating documents on Flosse.
As any journalist knows, documents are a cause for celebration, not suicide. Just like any journalist would prey for if she or he disappeared while working on a very hot story.
JPK is remembered here by his colleagues.
Gone. Not forgotten.