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France 6 June 2008

Judge investigating journalist’s 1997 death visits intelligence agency and Chirac’s lawyer

Reporters Without Borders is encouraged by new developments in the past few days in the investigation into the 1997 death of Jean-Pascal “JPK” Couraud, a leading investigative journalist based in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia.

According to a report on Le Monde’s website on 6 June, the Papeete judge now in charge of the case, Jean-François Redonnet, searched the Paris headquarters of the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), France’s CIA equivalent, on 4 June as part of his investigation.

Redonnet obtained 17 classified documents from the DGSE about a Japanese bank account supposedly held by former French President Jacques Chirac. The next day, he went to the law office of Chirac’s personal lawyer, Jean Viel, and asked for a copy of a letter from the Japanese bank Tokyo Sowa. It was finally provided in an envelope under judicial seal that will require a court’s approval in order to be opened.

“We take note that previously-neglected hypotheses in the investigation into Couraud’s death are now being explored and we hope that Judge Redonnet will have access to all the documents he needs to shed light on this case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is encouraging that the judge is taking account of the reports that Couraud was investigating suspicious bank transfers allegedly involving French Polynesia’s then president, Chirac ally Gaston Flosse.”

Couraud reportedly had precise information about transfers between a leading French Polynesian company and an account held by Chirac. Couraud’s body was never found after he disappeared on 15 December 1997.

After years of paralysis, 2007 saw some progress in the case despite a request by the Papeete prosecutor’s office for it to be closed. Files concerning Chirac’s alleged Japanese account that Clearstream case investigators seized from the home of Gen. Philippe Rondot, an intelligence official, were incorporated into the Couraud case file at the request of the family’s lawyers on 20 November. The judge in charge of the case, Philippe Stelmach, was replaced at the family’s request. And a Papeete court ruled that the investigation could seek to establish a link between these files and Couraud’s disappearance.

In a press release on 13 December 2007, Reporters Without Borders called for copies of all Clearstream case documents that might have any bearing on Couraud’s disappearance to be quickly transferred to the Couraud case file.

After Couraud disappeared in 1997, a Papeete court initially concluded that he took his own life and closed the case in October 2002. The case was reopened in October 2004 after Vetea Guilloux, a member of the former Polynesia Intervention Group (GIP), a police force that answered to then President Flosse, said he witnessed Couraud’s murder by two other GIP members. He later retracted his claim.

In December 2004, the Couraud family formally filed a complaint alleging that Couraud was murdered by persons unknown and with the complicity of persons unknown.

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