Cirque du Soleil founder charged over cannabis on private atoll

Papeete (AFP) –


The billionaire founder of acrobatic troupe Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberte, was charged in French Polynesia on Wednesday for allegedly growing cannabis on his private atoll, his lawyer said.

The Canadian entrepreneur was released after being formally charged with possession and cultivation of narcotics.

Detained on Tuesday, Laliberte is suspected of growing cannabis plants in a container on the atoll of Nukutepipi, which forms part of the Tuamotu island group in French Polynesia.

Under French law, he risks 10 years in prison if convicted. In practice, however, growers of pakalolo, the Polynesian name for cannabis, are not sent to jail over small quantities unless they are repeat offenders.

"This case is a distressing banality," his lawyer Yves Piriou told AFP, adding the cannabis in question was for "medical and personal consumption and nothing else," while Laliberte said he found the charges "a little funny" as he left the courthouse in Papeete.

His company Lune Rouge emphasised in a statement that trafficking was not among the charges.

Laliberte has invested about 100 million euros ($110 million) in Nukutepipi, where he employs about 100 people, the company said.

Asked about his future ties with Polynesia, the businessman said he would have to "think about all that, because it is not very welcoming, not very nice" to be criminally charged.

Laliberte's troubles follow the arrest last month of a worker on the Atoll who was in possession of cannabis. Investigators found photographs of marijuana cultivation on his mobile phone.

In addition to beautiful beaches, Nukutepipi has 16 luxury villas, a cinema, an astronomical observatory and sports grounds.

Once an operating licence is obtained, the atoll will be put up for rent at some 900,000 euros ($991,000) per week.

Nukutepipi also boasts a state-of-the-art recording studio, used by U2 singer Bono last month.

Laliberte, a former fire-eater and stilt-walker, spent two weeks on the International Space Station in 2009.