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Former French tourism minister investigated in corruption case

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FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique — A French judge has filed preliminary corruption charges against former Tourism Minister Leon Bertrand and placed him in custody on the French Caribbean island of Martini

FORT-DE-FRANCE, Martinique — A French judge has filed preliminary corruption charges against former Tourism Minister Leon Bertrand and placed him in custody on the French Caribbean island of Martinique, the prosecutor’s office in Fort-de-France said.

Bertrand served as tourism minister in former President Jacques Chirac’s government from 2002 to 2007. The preliminary charges relate to another post he held at the same time, as president of a community planning board in western French Guiana, one of France’s overseas departments.

The judge has been looking into whether Bertrand accepted kickbacks from entrepreneurs who were accorded public works contracts, using the money to fund his local political campaigns, the prosecutor’s office in Fort-de-France said late Friday.

Investigating judge Thierry Rolland filed preliminary charges against Bertrand for favouritism and corruption relating to the period from 2003 through July 2009, the prosecutor’s office said.

Under French law, preliminary charges mean the investigating judge has determined there is strong evidence to suggest involvement in a crime. It gives the investigator time to pursue the inquiry before deciding whether to send the suspect to trial or drop the case.

Bertrand was taken into custody in French Guiana, on the northern coast of South America, and was transferred for questioning to Martinique, another overseas department. A judge is expected to rule Wednesday on whether he must stay behind bars.

Another official from the community planning board, Augustin Tossa, was being held along with Bertrand, and several others are also behind questioned.