Montreal

Cirque du Soleil's founder charged with cannabis offences in French Polynesia

Guy Laliberté has been charged with the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis in French Polynesia.

Guy Laliberté's lawyer says Quebec billionaire released without bail

Guy Laliberté, founder of the Cirque du Soleil, was photographed on his private island of Nukutepipi, this summer. He is appearing before a magistrate Wednesday after being detained for growing cannabis on the island. (Mike Leyral/AFP via Getty Images)

Guy Laliberté, the co-founder of Cirque du Soleil, has been charged with the cultivation, possession and use of cannabis in French Polynesia.

Laliberté's lawyer, Yves Piriou, told Radio-Canada that the 60-year-old Quebec billionaire was released with conditions Wednesday after a court appearance. He had been detained in Papeete, the capital city, on the island of Tahiti. 

Laliberté had been detained since Tuesday for allegedly growing cannabis on his private island. Investigators were trying to determine whether he was trafficking the drug, but no charges to that effect were laid.

He was released without bail. He is allowed to leave the country, but he will have to appear in court when summoned.

According to Piriou, Laliberté's charges are of no serious consequence and, at worst, could earn him a suspended prison sentence and possibly a fine.

In French Polynesia, an overseas territory of France, it is illegal to grow, consume or traffic cannabis, according to a spokesperson for the Gendarmerie de Polynésie française, the national police force.

A few weeks ago, local authorities intercepted someone close to Laliberté for the possession of cannabis and found pictures of plantations on his mobile phone.

This is the main swimming pool in front of the 16 villas on Nukutepipi. Laliberté transformed the island into a luxurious destination for billionaires. (Mike Leyral/AFP via Getty Images)

Laliberté uses marijuana for medical reasons, and grows and consumes the cannabis on Nukutepipi, his private island, for his own personal use.

In a statement, Laliberté said he was surprised by the "disproportionate importance given to this matter," and that he will continue to cooperate with local authorities.

The Canadian government's travel website states that in French Polynesia, "penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are severe. Convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and heavy fines."

Under the French penal code, sentences related to cannabis can vary depending on the charge — from a maximum of one year in jail for consumption to a maximum of 20 years for production or fabrication, along with hefty fines.

Laliberté co-founded Cirque du Soleil, an international circus company, in 1984.

The Montreal-based company sold a majority stake to an investment group led by global investment firm TPG in 2015, but Laliberté maintained a stake in the business, and continues to provide strategic and creative input.

With files from Agence France-Presse, The Canadian Press and Radio-Canada