Thursday, February 22, 2007

brother of dead journalist sacked on st. valentine's



Ministers in French Polynesia are being accused of sacking a man whose brother went missing nine years ago.

Philippe Couraud was heading a committee of family and friends looking into the alleged assassination of his brother, an investigative journalist, by French-trained agents.

Couraud was removed from his position as Town Planning director after a change of government in the territorial assembly.

Union officials say a decision to fire Philippe Couraud was taken at a meeting in Tahiti of the Council of Ministers on 14th February, Saint Valentine’s Day, last Wednesday.

News of the sacking was posted to the Tahitipresse Agency website four days later, following a statement from the Union of Public Service Executive Officers, SCFP.

“At the time of its last Council of Ministers of February 14, 2007, the government removed Philippe Couraud as head of department of Town Planning.”

“Revocation of his appointment was made without explanation, and under urgency,” claim officials from Syndicat des Cadres de la Fonction Publique in a media statement.

SCFP officials said they were concerned at “politicisation” at the high end of the “administrative spectrum.”

They questioned what Couraud had done to deserve being fired, themselves answering “nothing” - other than asking for a full and proper inquiry into the alleged assassination of his brother, Jean-Pascal Couraud.

Bylined JPK, Couraud went missing on 15th December 1997, nine years ago, with early fears of suicide replaced by allegations from a security agent working for former long-time president Gaston Flosse.

In late 2004, Vetea Guilloux said the former Pape’ete editor was tortured and drowned, after gaining access to top secret documents that allegedly revealed high level corruption by Flosse, and his mainland France patron, Jacques Chirac.

French journalists from channel TF1 broadcast a documentary on the assassination allegations shortly before by-elections on Saint Valentine’s day in 2005.

As many as 40,000 people protested against corruption.

Some carried placards referring to JPK, and “four concrete blocks” used by security agents in December 1997 to weigh down Couraud. His unconscious body was allegedly dropped overboard into waters more than 3,000 metres deep between Mo’orea and Tahiti.

Family and friends of JPK set up a support committee, Soutien JPK, in 2005.

As committee head, Philippe Couraud eventually accused the French-run Justice ministry of corruption at the highest levels.

An investigation restarted by police in late 2004 stalled by late 2005, the Couraud family complaining in late 2006 that they had not been able to put fresh evidence before inquiry magistrates for 11 months.

Justice officials changed the magistrate four times, with the fourth refusing to handle the case.

The last magistrate also instructed police not to accept any more evidence on the JPK case.

Now Philippe Couraud has lost his job.

Three months ago, in December 2006, Couraud was asked whether he was worried he might lose his job by speaking out against politicians.

"Maybe not under this administration, not under Oscar," he said about immediate past president, Oscar Temaru, "because this case is not against them. But if the administration changes back to the other side, who knows?"

SCPF officials described Couraud's sacking as breaching public service rules, an "arbitrary and precipitate revocation" that "disturbs and sometimes calls into question progress of projects in the public interest."

After several other sackings carried out in more or less similar fashion, SCFP officials said they can "only worry about the return of politicisation to our administrative sector."

"We again fear mishandling of information with the only aim being the control of political processes to profit particular interests," reads the SCPF statement.

French media recently published documents showing US$70 million inside an account in a Tokyo bank under the name of Gaston Flosse, with the same branch also holding an account belonging to Jacques Chirac.

Dated from the late nineties, the documents could be from among the same batch of papers that JPK was tortured and killed to cover up, say Pape'ete sources.