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Former Cook Islands PM Sir Geoffrey Henry dies

Published: 8:06AM Thursday May 10, 2012 Source: ONE News

Sir Geoffrey Henry, a former prime minister of the Cook Islands, has died aged 71 after a short illness.

An often controversial figure, Sir Geoffrey is survived by his wife Louisa, five children, 10 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

He became leader of the Cook Islands Party (CIP) in 1979 after his cousin Albert Henry was forced to resign over using Government money to fly in voters from New Zealand.

Sir Geoffrey remained leader of the party until 2006 and was twice prime minister of the Cook Islands - for seven months in 1983, and again from 1989 until 1999.

He resigned as prime minister in July 1999 rather than face the break-up of the CIP due to party dissidents who opposed both his leadership and the nation's growing debt of more than $100 million.

Desperate to raise funds, Sir Geoffrey issued letters of guarantee for (US) $1.1 billion.

New Zealand was forced to step in and implement harsh measures in order to stop the country from going bankrupt. An independent report found that the Cook Islands were a gullible victim in a fraud which could have cost the nation all of its assets.

Despite the turmoil, Sir Geoffrey will be remembered for his support behind the Cook Islands protest against French nuclear testing and his fierce nationalism.

In late 2004, he became the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance in a coalition government led by Robert Woonton.

Sir Geoffrey continued in this position until 2006, and in February last year he was elected Speaker of the Cook Islands Parliament.

He was knighted in 1992.

Sir Geoffrey's funeral will be held in the Cook Islands on Friday (Saturday NZT).