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France14 December 2006

Probe into journalist’s disappearance in Polynesia nine years ago is stalled, support committee says

On the eve of the ninth anniversary of the disappearance of investigative journalist Jean-Pascal Couraud, the editor of the daily Les Nouvelles de Tahiti, Reporters Without Borders today said the investigation seemed to have ground to a complete halt without any light being shed on how he went missing.

The support committee formed after Couraud (also known as JPK) disappeared on 15 December 1997 in French Polynesia has also condemned the paralysis in the judicial investigation.

“We add our voice to the support committee’s appeal, and we call on the Polynesian judicial authorities not to rule out the possibility that Couraud was murdered because of his journalistic activities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “All the witnesses who could help shed light on this case must be questioned. The judicial authorities must also keep Couraud’s family informed about the progress of the investigation.”

According to Couraud’s family, several key witnesses have still not been questioned and, at the beginning of last month, the investigating judge in charge of the case asked for it to be reassigned, which will probably result in further delays.

The JPK support committee gave a news conference on 6 December to report on latest developments and to stress that there is no longer any doubt that Couraud was murdered. In support of this claim, the committee released four new statements (available on in which it is alleged that he was murdered by members of the former Polynesia Intervention Group (GIP), a police force answering to former President Gaston Flosse.

Couraud was a well-known critic of Flosse and was investigating political and financial matters which, if published, could have hurt Flosse. Suicide was initially suspected after his mysterious disappearance, but the case was reopened in October 2004 after former GIP member Vetea Guilloux said he witnessed Couraud’s murder by two other GIP members. He later retracted this claim and was sentenced to 12 months in prison for making a slanderous accusation. He was later conditionally freed after withdrawing his claim. The prosecutor-general has refused to reopen the enquiry into Couraud’s disappearance, saying the truth of what Guilloux said could not be verified.

The support committee set up by one of the journalist’s brothers in November 2004 to follow the reopened case. On 14 December 2004, Couraud’s family filed a suit against persons unknown for murder and complicity, and requested interested-party status in the case.

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