Julian Moti and the raid on the Prime Minister’s office
In 2006-07, relations between the governments of Australia and Solomon Islands were strained over the Julian Moti affair. Mr. Moti is an Australian lawyer appointed to the position of Attorney General of Solomon Islands in 2006 and again in July 2007, by the then Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. From the time that the appointment was first mooted in 2006, it was strenously opposed by then Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, who stated that Moti faced criminal charges related to alleged sexual offences in Vanuatu some years earlier.
Attempts to have Mr. Moti extradited to Australia failed, and an attempt to extradite him from Papua New Guinea in 2006 while he was visiting Port Moresby led to his flight on a PNG military aircraft back to Solomon Islands – the subject of a subsequent inquiry in Port Moresby which implicated PNG Prime Minister Michael Somare in the decision to return Moti to Solomon Islands (This blowback from the Moti affair led to soured relations between Foreign Minister Downer and the PNG leader).
The tension between the Australian and Solomon Islands governments was exacerbated when SIPF and PPF police raided the office of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, reportedly “kicking in” the door to obtain evidence for the prosecution of Mr. Moti. This affair contributed to the removal of AFP officer Shane Castles, who was serving as Solomon Islands Police Commissioner, and further bad blood which culminated in the Australian High Commissioner Patrick Cole being declared persona non grata in September 2006.
A parliamentary no-confidence motion in December 2007 saw the replacement of Prime Minister Sogavare by Derek Sikua, and opened the way for Moti’s extradition to Australia, where he was charged with criminal offences. The incoming Rudd ALP government, elected in November 2007 supported the extradition of Moti, which improved relations between the two governments and saw an end to visa restrictions on SI and PNG government ministers.
Letter of correction by AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty – AFP Appearance before Senate estimates, 31 October 2006
“The question pertained to the execution of a search warrant on the office of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister, Mr. Mannasseh Sogavare. I wish to correct the record that whilst the search warrant was executed by members of the Solomon Islands Police Force, they were assisted by members of the Participating Police Force, some of whom were Australians currently deployed to the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands as advisers.”
Interview with Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer following the expulsion of Australian High Commissioner Patrick Cole, Sky News, 13 September 2006
“Look, RAMSI, the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands isn’t about involving ourselves in the rather curious world of Solomon Islands politics. It’s about helping the ordinary people of Solomon Islands. I mean the fact is of course that over the years politicians in the Solomon Islands have not delivered good governance, and to the extent that by 2003 the country had virtually collapsed. And other countries from the region have had to bail them out through RAMSI.
“Now, it’s important that RAMSI sees the job through and it will take a long time. So these kinds of disputes, well, we have to deal with them, and certainly not demonstrate that Australia can be bullied and pushed around and that corruption in Solomon Islands can just, you know, go ahead in the way it’s gone ahead over the years. We want to do everything we can to try to stamp out corruption and lawlessness and make sure that services are delivered to ordinary people there and the country can become a little more prosperous and a good deal more stable. And RAMSI is central to that. And we certainly remain very strongly committed to RAMSI, and I don’t think RAMSI will be affected by this….
“We have a High Commission on the ground there still in Solomon Islands, and we have a very able Acting High Commissioner in Heidi Bootle. And we’ve got, of course, RAMSI there, and people, there’s a lot of Australians, it’s dominated by Australians. So we obviously have a lot of people on the ground still, all the same, in Solomon Islands.”
AFP refutes claims made about Solomon Islands police commissioner, AFP Media release, 12 January 2007
“The Australian Federal Police (AFP) today refuted claims made recently by representatives of the Solomon Islands Government regarding AFP officer Shane Castles, who has been seconded to the Solomon Islands to serve as Commissioner of the Solomon Island Police Force (SIPF). National Manager of the AFP’s International Deployment Group, Assistant Commissioner Paul Jevtovic, said a number of allegations made were factually incorrect and completely without foundation.
“ ‘At all times in his capacity as Commissioner of the Solomon Islands Police Force, Commissioner Castles has been accountable to the Solomon Islands Government,’ Assistant Commissioner Jevtovic said. ‘Since his appointment in April 2005, he has remained committed to serving the Solomon Islands Government and people by working to rebuild the nation’s police force. He has, at all times, acted constitutionally to uphold the law of the Solomon Islands.’
“Commissioner Castles was appointed as Commissioner of the Solomon Island Police Force in April 2005 by the Solomon Islands Governor-General for a term of two years. This appointment was totally in accordance with the Constitution of the Solomon Islands. He is committed to finishing the remaining four months of his term and has never sought an extension to his term of a further 20 months as has been suggested by the Solomon Islands Government. Contrary to allegations made, Commissioner Castles IS NOT exempt from constitutional or legal obligations. Commissioner Castles has indemnity against civil proceedings in courts and tribunals brought against him as a result of any operation involving his role as Commissioner, but he has no immunity regarding criminal proceedings or other civil matters before a court or tribunal. This was agreed between the respective governments.
“The AFP refutes the suggestion of misconduct by Commissioner Castles, particularly regarding the Honiara riots and the execution of a search warrant on offices of the Solomon Islands Prime Minister….In relation to the search warrant on offices associated with the Prime Minister, a search warrant was sought through the Director of Public Prosecutions and issued by an independent Magistrate, who authorised the police action. The process to issue the search warrant and the subsequent search of the Prime Minister’s Office complied with the laws of the Solomon Islands in all respects.”
Media interview, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Bali,13 December 2007
Question: The new relations with PNG – does that mean that Australia is no longer pursuing an explanation from the Somare Government as to how Julian Moti escaped or was able to evade those extradition attempts earlier?
PM Rudd: Firstly on the question of the Moti matter, the position of the Australian Government is absolutely clear cut. This individual is the subject of criminal charges and because of the application of Australian domestic law; we have activated our extradition arrangements with the Government of the Solomon Islands. Nothing has changed on that score. We therefore intend to prosecute that to the full. The reason being is that the normal operation of the criminal law of the Commonwealth of Australia, and through its properly constituted agencies, including the Australian Federal Police, and international extradition arrangements should proceed unimpeded and that will remain our position.
Solomon Islands deportee charged in Brisbane, AFP Media release, Thursday, 27 December 2007
“Australian Federal Police have arrested and charged a 42-year-old man with child sex tourism offences at Brisbane International Airport this evening. The man was deported from the Solomon Islands earlier today. He was taken to Brisbane Watch House where he was charged with engaging in sexual intercourse with a person who is under 16, contrary to section 50BA of the Crimes Act 1914. The man was remanded in custody to appear in Brisbane Magistrates Court on 28 December. The maximum penalty for this offence is 17 years imprisonment.”
Australia lifts visa restrictions for Solomon Islands MPs, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, Media Release, 21 January 2008
“I am pleased to announce the lifting of visa restrictions for Solomon Islands Members of Parliament who seek to travel to, or transit through, Australia. The Australian Government looks forward to working closely with the new Solomon Islands Government under Prime Minister Sikua’s leadership and sees the opportunity for a fresh start to the relationship. The removal of these visa restrictions, which were imposed in 2006, demonstrates Australia’s commitment to this fresh start and to the strengthening of our relationship with the Solomon Islands.”
Commentary and analysis
Strange case against fugitive lawyer Julian Moti, David Marr and Marian Wilkinson, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 October 2006
“Vanuatu court documents show the case against fugitive lawyer Julian Moti, being sought by the Australian Government, contains serious weaknesses. Though the girl at the centre of the case has made graphic and disturbing allegations of a relationship with Moti when she was aged 13, a Vanuatu court decided he had no case to answer….Vanuatu courts threw out the charges against him in 1999. The proceedings involved a number of distinguished visiting judges: John Von Doussa, now the president of Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bruce Robertson, the president of the New Zealand Law Commission, and Daniel Fatiaki now Chief Justice of Fiji.
“The Herald has seen six disturbing statements she made over the next four months. All are in English, though it appears she only spoke French. None was in her own writing. None was sworn. The underlying story doesn’t change from statement to statement, but details are contradictory. Others appear fanciful. She claimed he had three testicles, but Port Vila GP Dr Frank Spooner would later examine Moti and concluded he had two. The statements present a number of other difficulties for any prosecution of Moti. Dates are changed; at one stage she withdrew her allegations entirely, then renewed them a few weeks later saying her previous statement was “not of my own free will” and asked police to investigate.”
Moti affair offers a lesson for a short-sighted neighbour, Hugh White, Sydney Morning Herald 19 October 2006 P.19
“In 2003, John Howard abandoned decades of benign detachment and committed Australia to become much more active and engaged in helping our Pacific island neighbours overcome the problems that threaten their viability, and potentially also Australia’s security. The Moti affair shows how little credibility this policy has left. The affair, trivial in itself, tells us much that is depressing and alarming about the state of Australia’s policy towards our near neighbours. It shows how deep their problems are, how far we are from finding any solutions, and how badly the Government handles our relations with these dysfunctional countries that are so important to our future. …The Federal Government has been foolish to fall for the bait from the Solomons Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogovare, and allow two major bilateral relationships to become hostage to a fourth-order issue. The Government has reverted to type, too. It is not so much that we have seemed petty, bullying and vindictive, though we have; it is that we have been ineffectual…. The Moti affair will blow over soon enough, but the sense that the Government has lost sight of its long-term aims in the Pacific will remain.”
Julian Moti and the future of RAMSI, Shahar Hameiri, Australian Policy Online, 18 July 2007
“Moti’s appointment is not so much an example of poor governance, as Alexander Downer argued, even though it is a very problematic decision by Sogavare. Rather, the appointment is a demonstration of the increasing inability of the Australian government and RAMSI to manage the tensions in the relationship with the Solomon Islands government. More importantly, though, it is also a demonstration of the sort of political pressures Sogavare is under, not least due to RAMSI’s presence in Solomon Islands, and of the political opportunities RAMSI’s particular structure provides him.”