PAPEETE, Jul 31, 2019, RNZ. An investigation has been opened in French Polynesia into claims that the government broke environmental laws with its Tahitian Village tourism project, reported the Radio New Zealand.
This has been revealed by the outgoing prosecutor Jose Thorel in an interview with the La Depeche newspaper.
The breaches of the environment code were committed under the presidency of first Gaston Flosse and then Edouard Fritch when huge quantities of material were deposited at the site of the planned multi-billion-dollar Mahana Beach hotel and resort project.
After his 2013 election victory, it was Gaston Flosse’s ambition to revive the tourism sector following a decade of decline and then stagnation.
He eyed a 52-hectare project exceeding anything seen in the Pacific before and it was soon touted as the biggest tourism development in all of France.
The construction of the Mahana Beach was expected to provide thousands of jobs in construction phase and once completed, it was hoped to employ thousands in the luxury hotels, condominiums, the shopping precinct as well as its casino.
The initial plan for the project was tabled after the 2013 election and a year later three companies were shortlisted to tackle the undertaking estimated to cost in excess of $US2 billion.
no captionPhoto: Presidence Polynesie francaise
To ready the site between Tahiti’s international airport and Punaauia, the closed Maeva Beach hotel was demolished.
Within a year more than 100,000 cubic metres of material was dumped at the project site to build an embankment, seemingly dispelling concern that soil could be washed into the lagoon shared with upmarket hotels.
The relevant code required approval for moving a mere 60 cubic metres of material while an impact study is needed for using more than 10,000 cubic metres to consolidate the shoreline.
It has now been revealed that a study was carried out but its findings were ignored.
For the prosecution the earth works were therefore done without authorisation, which means those responsible risk jail terms of up to two years.
Two years ago, the administrative court had already asked the government to clarify its actions between 2013 and 2015 following a complaint from a nearby hotel.
There is no indication who is being targetted with the current investigation, nor how long it will run.
Gaston Flosse drove the project until 2014 when a corruption conviction forced him out of office.
When his deputy Edouard Fritch took over the presidency, the commissioning process was underway and in 2015 a deal with reached with a Chinese consortium made up of Recas Global Limited, China Railway International and R&F Properties.
However, funding could not be finalised and what by then had ballooned to an almost $US3 billlion project fell over.
Mr Fritch revived plans to utilise the cleared site by seeking bids for a downsized version of the complex, dubbed the Tahitian Village.
Flosse, who within months of losing power fell out with Mr Fritch, accused him of being incapable of managing the project.
In turn, the French Polynesian government cast doubt on whether Flosse was correct that an investor from Abu Dhabi was ready to take over the project.
Last month, a New Zealand consortium bidding to realise the $US700-million development was dropped after missing three deadlines to secure the funding.
Two weeks ago, the French Polynesian government announced that new bids would be taken for the Tahitian Village tourism project.
It says new deadlines would be announced before the end of the year for those still interested in the project.
So far millions have been spent, with nothing to show for.