Last Wednesday I spent most of the morning with Prime Minister Sogovare in his Cabinet room. Suddenly, our discussion turned into a “de facto” emergency inner-Cabinet meeting as frantic telephone calls advised the PM that the Hon Peter Shanel, Minister for Immigration, had been arrested by AFP/RAMSI officers. He’d been roughly chucked into the back of a paddy wagon and brought to police cells for interrogation, reason unknown.
Managing to get a lawyer to the cells to assist the minister proved to be quite a challenge occupying most of the morning. Eventually the combined weight of three lawyers managed to get through to the minister who was later charged with having misled the Police Commissioner (an Australian AFP officer) about whether or not he had issued a letter in relation to the Moti matter.
Throughout the morning one could feel the resentment build up as several senior ministers (including the Foreign Affairs and Finance ministers) came in and out for urgent talks with the Prime Minister regarding their colleague’s detention. What a way for Australia to teach our near neighbours “due process” and “nation building”, I thought to myself.
If only the Australian taxpayers were made aware of the childish games being played in their name. Mr Castles is paid less than A$20,000 by the Solomon Islands Government (this being Police Commissioner’s normal salary) but in excess of A$120,000 by the Australian taxpayer.
Very late on Wednesday night I received a visit from an emissary from the PM. I was told to be up at five the next morning to catch a flight out of Honiara. The PM was concerned that “things might happen to you” if I remained in Honiara in his absence. The PM was due to fly out to Nadi with Sir Michael Somare and Ham Lini, the Vanuatu Prime Minister, later on the Thursday.
The raid on the Prime Minister’s office on Friday afternoon was most probably an attempt by RAMSI to recover some ground in relation to the mess it has created around the arrest of Julia Moti on Immigration matters.
Clearly the Australian Federal Police had “inside information” and were able to intercept Moti when he landed unannounced at a small regional airport on 10 October 2006. A helicopter was dispatched (at whose costs?) to collect the prized prisoner.
Obviously there had been no consultation with any Minister prior to the decision being made to arrest Mr Moti. When the matter came to court, Mr Moti’s lawyers relied upon a letter dated 8 October 2006 from the Immigration Minister, allowing Mr Moti to enter without a visa — his Australian passport having already been cancelled.
For reasons unknown the AusAid- financed Solicitor General (and not the Public Prosecutor as one would have expected) advised the court (without having consulted with the relevant Minister) that the document produced by Moti’s lawyers was more likely than not a forgery and ought be suppressed. It soon became obvious that the letter was not a forgery.
A formal complaint against the Solicitor General is being lodged with the Victorian Bar in relation to this matter. What RAMSI is now trying to establish by grabbing the Prime Minister’s fax machine is (possibly) that the letter dated 8 October 2006 from the Immigration Minister, was in fact transmitted sometime after 10 October 2006.
Never mind the logic nor the costs/benefit analysis: it may well be that other evidence may come out of the fax machine which may help RAMSI do the needful in relation to the recalcitrant Prime Minister Sogovare who has dared to act in a manner which he believes to be in his country’s best interest.
Prime Minister Vohor in Vanuatu has learnt from bitter experience (having been removed as Prime Minister on three separate occasions) that one does not stand up to Australia and remain Prime Minister for very long.