Reporters Without Borders deplores defence minister Hervé Morin’s decision, on the advice of the Consultative Commission on National Defence Secrets (CCSDN), not to declassify three documents relating to the death of independent journalist Jean-Pascal “JPK” Couraud that were seized from the French intelligence agency known as the Directorate General for External Security (DGSE) in December 2008.
An investigative journalist based in Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, Couraud disappeared in 1997, at a time when he was working on several sensitive stories including transfers of funds between a local company and a bank account that may have belonged to then French President Jacques Chirac.
“This decision is extremely regrettable,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Defence secrecy has again been used to prevent the truth from emerging, in this case the truth about a journalist’s murder. We fear the recent progress in the Couraud murder investigation will go no further and that the authorities have decided to bury the case.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “The Papeete judicial system initially decided Couraud killed himself, but it relaunched the investigation because people refused to believe this and because new witness evidence emerged. The stories Couraud had been investigating involved politicians. The questions surrounding this case must be resolved. Was a journalist silenced in order to protect a French politician, or several of them?”
The CCSDN decision opposing declassification, confirming an opinion it issued in December 2008, was published yesterday in the French government gazette and was accepted by the defence minister.
The request for declassification of the three DGSE documents was made by Jean-François Redonnet, the Papeete judge in charge of the Couraud investigation. They were seized during a search of the DGSE, France’s CIA equivalent, that was carried out on 4 June 2008 on Redonnet’s orders. The office of Chirac’s personal lawyer was also searched the same day.
The CCSDN issued two opinions in favour of declassification, in June and October 2008, before opposing declassification of three documents.