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Former president of New Caledonia facing charges over telecoms contract awards

6 Jan 2015

Harold Martin, a former president of New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Caledonie), a special collectivity of France located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, is being indicted to face criminal charges of ‘favouritism’ when granting lucrative telecommunications contracts during his time in office. The accusations relate to alleged irregularities in the issuing of contracts worth millions of dollars when Mr Martin was chairman of the country’s monopoly fixed and mobile operator, government-backed Office des Postes et Telecommunications de Nouvelle-Caledonie (OPT-NC), which also acts as the national industry regulator. The case relates to the government tender of a new 3G network in 2010 when Martin and other board members questioned the decision to offer tax breaks to an alternative firm bidding for the 3G licence. An investigation followed in which it was uncovered that Martin had links with another bidder – a fact he failed to disclose – prompting a police investigation in late-2011 and the matter now going to trial.

According to TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, having launched its first cellular network in December 1995 when it switched on a GSM-900 system, OPT-NC was subsequently licensed to build a 3G mobile network, with the shift to a high speed mobile broadband system coming in August 2011 with the introduction of a UMTS/HSDPA 3G/3.5G network operating in the 900MHz and 2100MHz bands. TeleGeography notes that although no formal licensing process is in place for fourth-generation (4G) mobile services, in April 2014 it was announced that OPT-NC plans to deploy 4G mobile services as part of its strategy plan ‘OPT2017’. The first 4G antennas were commissioned by the end of December 2014, with the OPT-NC board saying that commercial offers could be in place by February 2015 under the branding ‘THD Mobile’.

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