Monday, February 16, 2009

fake letter distracts from chirac no go


A French weekly has attacked the credibility of a document at the centre of l’affaire JPK, a four year old investigation into alleged assassination of a former editor from Tahiti.

Journal de Dimanche declared a letter about the asassination of Jean-Pascal Couraud was a “fake.”

Attributed to Vetea Cadousteau, the letter is still undergoing tests for authenticity.

Cadousteau was former spy found dead in 2006, in a shallow valley river during a pig hunting trip. French media reports his body had socks on, but no shoes.

Police from DNIF, the National Directorate of Financial Investigations, found the letter during a September 2008 search at the home of Gaston Flosse, former president of French Polynesia.

The letter was in a drawer of his home office bureau.

“I know that I will be killed for what I know” it reads.

Last month, Flosse said he was lodging defamation suits against local and French media for their reportage of allegations made in the letter about the disappearance of Jean-Couraud, known as JPK.

Allegations link his disappearance with a dossier of documents showing Flosse had enabled payments of millions of dollars to an account held in Japan, in the name of former president of France, Jacques Chirac.

Unsigned, undated, the seven page letter of testimony closely matches evidence given in late 2004 by another former spy, Vetea Guilloux – that Couraud was abducted, beaten, tortured at sea, then dumped into waters some 2,500 metres deep.

According to reports in Journal de Dimanche, that’s because a police officer wrote the letter, not Cadousteau.

An investigative journalist at the Sunday paper, Marie-Christine Tabet said a Tahiti policeman Georges Pater admitted he wrote the letter to put pressure on a former president of French Polynesia, Gaston Flosse.

Described as a “boy of scant enthusiasm”, Officer Pater visited Guilloux in prison on several occasions, asking and reasking questions about alleged assassination of JPK, claims Tabet.

Pater is quoted as telling Guilloux: “I’ve been commissioned by Sarkozy to clean Chiraciens from the whole island,” and that his “testimony on the l’affaire JPK would help.”

So far, Journal de Dimanche is only one of a handful of French media to mention the police officer.

Tabet, for one, appears convinced that Officer Pater is telling the truth, and goes a step further, claiming his evidence is a set-back for a troubled investigation.

“Back to square one, and the poison of doubt”, she wrote.

Ordinarily, that kind of language might be considered a little strange for a journalist covering an investigation yet to make an official finding on the disappearance of a former colleague.

Justice Jean-François Redonnet ordered the seven page letter undergo a second round of testing.

Doubts over the letter and the ability of the examining magistrate to question Chirac are just two of the challenges facing this inquiry.

Real or not, the letter distracts attention from continued refusal by Jacques Chirac, former president of France, to answer questions from an investigatory magistrate looking into the disappearance of JPK.

Through his lawyers, Chirac told another weekly newspaper, Le Carnard Enchaine, that he did not have to answer any questions because presidential immunity still applies to actions taken when he was in office.

This is a variation on an earlier theme, that Chirac enjoyed presidential immunity as long as he was still in office.

Before, lawyers claimed Chirac had presidential immunity from investigation because of his office.

Now Chirac lawyers are arguing that instead of the office holder, it is the presidential acts themselves that are immune from being questioned by magistrates.

Former prime minister Dominique de Villepin was one who did answer questions from Justice Redonnet.

He flatly denied that an investigation initiated from his former office uncovered evidence of a bank account in a Japan bank under the name of Chirac.

"President Chirac has never had a bank account in Japan," he said earlier this month.

Like Chirac, Villepin is no friend of current president, Nicholas Sarkozy, whose administration at first encouraged the JPK inquiry.

Few expected Redonnet to arrive on the doorstep of the French spy agency, DGSE, and request to see top secret documentation. Or to order national fraud police to raid the homes and offices of Flosse and Chirac.

Some suggest an attack of nerves in Paris might be the reason behind a spate of recent moves to cut back balancing powers of other institutions – namely parliament, justice and media.

Sarkozy guilloutined debate in the national assembly. He then overturned 200 years of judicial history by removing investigatory powers from judges.

As if that were not enough, Sarkozy also dismissed an independent panel previously in charge of appointing the head of the country’s state broadcasting services. He then signed an edict banning advertising from state TV, leading to alarm among journalists over a loss of independent revenue and management.

Independence is a long running concern among French journalists.

Journal de Dimanche is an example of this kind of concern, wide ranging controversy starting with a former owner, Robert Hersant, publishing “rabidly” pro-Nazi propaganda during World War II.

In 1988, it was Groupe Hersant that bought the daily paper edited by Couraud, then fired him for a long series of exposes, scoops, comments and criticism against Flosse.

Another such owner is current Journal boss, Serge Dassault, worth some US$10 billion in 2007, ranking 84th in a Forbes list of billionaires, with extensive links throughout government and the judiciary.

Ten years earlier, in 1998, Dassault had been given a suspended 18 month sentence for bribing Belgium officials with some €4 million to buy arms from his company, prosecutors calling for a €2.2 million fine.

Instead, the Court of Cassassation imposed a mere €60,000 fine – barely three percent of the amount sought by prosecutors.

An arms merchant, Dassault is no believer in freedoms of the press, despite owning dozens of different media organisations; newspapers, radio and television stations.

He explains his approach.

“When I meet the editorial team for the first time on a newspaper that I have just bought, I ask permission from journalists to go have a pee. The second time, I take a piss without asking anyone”.

“The third time,” he pauses, “I piss on them.”

On another occasion, Dassault said that, “If there were no journalists and no book writers, newspaper publishers would be happy people.”

From such background, it might be possible to get an idea of editorial processes that describe a police officer as “boy”, pass judgement on an official inquiry as “poison”, and declare evidence “fake” even before the inquiry does.

Quoting a “special correspondent”, Tabet dismisses the “fiery confession” as it “simply replicates the words of Guilloux.”

The paper also labelled JPK a “ghost”, ahead of an admiring profile on Chirac and his efforts to build an instititution in his own name, aimed at human rights and development in the third world.

Reports of “fake” testimony in the JPK affair come from the same media group as Elle magazine and Paris Match.

Info on the JDD site makes no reference to its much bigger parent, Lagardère Media, referring only to Newsweb, a smaller holding group.

Arnaud Lagardère is another controversial figure, for example selling some 2 billion euros in stock with EADS, the big European Union aviation company, shortly before it released news of costly delays to its huge A380 jumbo liner.

Charges of insider trading are still working their way through appeal courts.

Lagardère is nearly as blunt as Dassault about the independence of his journalists.

“Before establishing if they are independent, journalists would do better to establish if their newspaper is sustainable.”

Newspapers on the left appear only slightly less vulnerable to bias.

Relentlessly criticial of Chirac, a satirical weekly called Bakchich completely ignored claims that the supposed Cadousteau letter is a fake.

Bakchich – French spelling of an Arab word for baksheesh or bribery – mocked the soft approach taken by the Sunday journal with a Chirac headline of its own: “A gentle pappy with a love of money.”

Max Gatti, lawyer for the JPK support committee, said claims of fakery were an attempt to "brainwash" people about the case.

"The only thing that prove the authenticity of the documents are the documents themselves - nothing else," Gatti told local daily, Les Nouvelles de Tahiti.

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