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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Solomons PM Sogavare brands Australia's Moti claims as 'ridiculous'

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has branded claims that normal relations between his country and Australia can only resume with the extradition of fugitive lawyer Julian Moti as “ridiculous”.

Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer wants Moti, who was nominated as attorney general of Solomon Islands by the Sogavare government, to return to Australia to face charges of raping a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu in 1997.

Mr Downer said last week the sooner the Solomon Islands handed Moti over, the sooner things could return to normal.

“I just cannot understand why Mr Downer continues with this charade when he or the Australian director of public prosecutions has persistently failed to provide any valid reasons why we should hand Moti over,” Mr Sogavare said in a statement issued through his Australia lawyers, Henshaw and Associates.

“There isn't one iota of evidence to revisit a case that was unconditionally concluded in Vanuatu in 1999.

“The Australians have had the past eight months to come up with new evidence and they have failed miserably."

Mr Sogavare said the continued pursuit of Moti was “political persecution.”

He criticised Mr Downer for not addressing issues raised in a statement released last week.

“Instead, he continues to beat the same tired drum with the same tired message through the media,” Mr Sogavare said.

“I simply challenge him to either put up or shut up.”

Moti was arrested while transiting through Papua New Guinea in September last year but evaded extradition to Australia by skipping bail and hiding out in the Solomons High Commission in Port Moresby for a week.

The Australian-trained lawyer of Fijian-Indian background then escaped to the Solomons on a clandestine PNG military flight on 10 October last year. His assisted escape soured Canberra's relations with PNG and the Solomons.

Source: Islands Business

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