The answers are contained in the revelations of ‘ Dr Susan Merrell’s newly-released book ‘Redeeming Moti’.
In it she successfully unravels the complexities of a political situation that was conflated with heinous sexual criminal charges to give a compelling explanation and analysis of a saga that involved four nations, brought down one Pacific government and threatened another.
Told through the experience of the author when, during the court proceedings, she sought to reveal what was being hidden behind a veil of contempt promoted by the nature of the charges. In the effort to redeem Moti, did she end up losing herself?
It’s a sad truth that precious few political scandals in Papua New Guinea reach a satisfactory conclusion: they tend to erupt violently only to soon be forgotten (and often forgiven) as the next crisis or sensation overtakes and overshadows. It is why PNG Echo has a category ‘Lest we forget’.
However, in true PNG fashion, this category has been overlooked lately as PNG Echo has become swept up with current political events. It’s time to address that irony by revisiting the Moti Saga.
The Moti Saga caused a serious diplomatic stoush between Australia and countries of the Pacific – most notably the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea – but not only – Fiji and Vanuatu were involved too.
In the ensuing years, myth has overtaken fact and there are many misconceptions about what really happened.
My involvement with the Moti case and Julian Moti dates back to 2009 when I first interviewed him – and continues to this day
As a political scientist, I was appalled at his treatment and the egregiously bad behaviour of authorities in many jurisdictions and since the first article there have been dozens more – all revealing what both the Australian authorities and, sadly, the Australian press did not want the public to know.
Three years later, the High Court of Australia agreed with what Moti had always avowed and what I had been trying to disseminate, with varying success, through a reluctant media.
This is what happened in Papua New Guinea.
By Susan Merrell
No one would accuse Julian Moti of being politically naïve. When he accepted the position as Attorney General of the Solomon Islands in 2006 he knew there were powerful opposing forces.
None so powerful as the Australian authorities that were having difficulty accepting a change in attitude towards their role in the Solomon Islands brought about by the new Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare.
Sogavare had, over time, become increasingly critical of the intervention of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Moti backed Sogavare’s position.
Australia’s best interests would be served by a quick removal of Sogavare and his backers.
So when Moti learned that the Australian Federal Police had begun a new investigation into a charge of sex with a minor (a charge that had been thrown out of a Vanuatu court almost a decade previously – Moti was found to have no case to answer), he braced himself for the ‘smear campaign’.
This was how they would discredit him, he reasoned. It was politics and politics is dirty.
But, even though Moti was in Papua New Guinea on his way to Honiara to advise Sogavare how to defeat a parliamentary motion of ‘no confidence’ against him in September 2006, and though he was aware that the Australians would be hoping that the motion was successful, he still did not foresee what would happen next
It must be nerve racking to arrest a lawyer. Lawyers have an air of arrogance buoyed by the confidence of knowing the law, their rights within those laws and how to exercise them. A wise person would be very sure of their grounds before making such a move.
Moreover, in Papua New Guinea’s international airport on September 29, 2006, it was no ordinary lawyer that was arrested. It was the Attorney General elect of the Solomon Islands, Julian Moti, in transit to Honiara to take up his position.
The now PNG Opposition Leader, Hon Don Polye, in a statement to the PNG parliament (2011) on the Ombudsman’s Commission Report (into the Moti issue) reminded parliament:
Mr. Moti was not an ordinary person. He was the Highest Law Officer of a Sovereign nation. He was the Attorney General of Solomon Islands. He deserved to be treated with decorum and proper protocol of a foreign dignitary.
MR SPEAKER, not only was Mr. Moti deserving of decorum and protocol, (as we would expect other countries to treat our Attorney General), Mr. Moti was also an International Protected Person under the Convention on the Prevention of Crimes Against Internationally Protected Persons including Diplomatic Agents 1973 (“the IPP Convention 1973”) to which PNG became a signatory in 2003. Under the IPP Convention PNG was obligated to protect Mr. Moti, who qualified as a “representative or official of a State” and grant him safe passage as the highest ranking law officer of Solomon Islands.
The Arrest, Extraction and Detention of Mr. Moti by our Police, was in breach of our International Law and our International Obligations under both the Chicago Convention 1958 and the IPP Convention 1973.
So where was the Arrest Warrant and why was Moti removed from the transit lounge without the correct immigration documents and visas? It’s questions such as these that lead one to suspect that there were compelling forces at work – even more compelling than the law.
How the arrest was effected.
When Moti arrive in Papua New Guinea, he had been travelling for almost twenty-four hours. It’s no simple matter getting from India (where Moti had been an academic) to the Solomon Islands. He took the quickest route – to Singapore through Papua New Guinea, onto Honiara.
Had Moti known what was in store he may just have chosen the long way round.
For there was a reception committee waiting at the transit lounge of Jackson International Airport. It wasn’t welcoming or befitting Moti’s status.
was the instruction as Moti’s travel documents were handed to an awaiting, unidentified, Australian man. After perusing the documents, the Australian conversed with another Papua New Guinean man who approached Moti. Identifying himself as a police officer with the Transnational Crime Unit, he informed Moti he was under arrest.
Why am I under arrest,
Moti demanded to know.
I don’t know. My seniors will tell you when they come.
The Police Officer replied.
Where’s the warrant for my arrest,
I don’t have it, it’s with my seniors,
the increasingly rattled policeman responded.
Clearly agitated by Moti’s questions, the police officer waited anxiously for his “seniors.” He knew who Moti was – he was well-aware of his position.
The seniors never did arrive – neither did the Arrest Warrant. And in spite of Moti not having the required documentation to enter Papua New Guinea, he was taken from the airport to a prison cell at Boroko Police Station.
The Machiavellian Australian figure appeared to direct the proceedings, the Papua New Guinean police carried out the orders.
In the Boroko cell.
The cells at the Boroko Police Station are hot and oppressive. There’s no air conditioning.
Squalid habitations for the wretched of the earth,
is how Moti described them. By this time Moti was indeed wretched.
I remained in a state of shock throughout the day,
wrote Moti of his incarceration.
I had not been given anything to eat or drink. I had never felt so dejected in my entire life. The stench in that cell was overpowering.
Moti became ill and was vomiting. He was having trouble breathing. He had no access to his asthma medicine, which was in his luggage that had been taken off the plane bound for Honiara but had since gone missing.
Moti’s lawyer in Papua New Guinea, Peter Pena, described the condition of the cell as “putrid.” Moreover, the other inmates incarcerated with Moti were being detained for “wilful murder and other serious crimes.”
A more ignominious fate for a high-ranking official of a fellow Melanesian state is hard to imagine, a fact recognised when Moti received a visit from Joseph Assaigo (since deceased). The Intelligence Branch Chief attached to the Office of the Prime Minister, apologised to Moti for the bad treatment.
By this time it was already afternoon.
Moti had received a copy of the Arrest Warrant mid morning. It had been obtained from the District Court at 9.30 a.m. Moti had been arrested at 5.30 a.m.
Mr. Moti, had in actual fact been arrested, extracted from the International Transit Lounge of the airport and held in police custody for over four hours at the behest, direction and supervision of the Australian Government without even a Warrant of Arrest.
wrote Peter Pena incredulously in his affadavit
Moreover, in the abovementioned statement to parliament, Hon Don Polye admitted Papua New Guinean culpability, stating:
MR SPEAKER, the most important fact that has eluded the media and the public eye for the last five (5) years that I must remind this House is that Mr. Moti has not committed any crime in Papua New Guinea. Mr. Moti did not commit any offence in PNG. Mr. Moti has not broken any law in PNG, either on or before the 29th of September 2006.
MR SPEAKER, there were no charges laid against Mr. Moti at the time of his arrest – for arrest, extraction from the International Lounge [Jacksons Airport] and lock-up. You can’t lock up international transit passengers without any charges. But that’s what we did.”[original emphasis]
Furthermore, Moti’s lawyers (including, now Acting Judge Danajo Koeget) noted numerous legally questionable premises on which the Warrant of Arrest had relied including an old extradition law that had since been repealed and replaced.
It was clear to Pena and Koeget that this document had been written in indecent haste and with scant regard to the laws of Papua New Guinea.
Nevertheless, and to the lawyers’ astonishment, the magistrate refused to discharge Moti but took it upon himself to grant bail.
So, in spite of Assaigo’s expressed regret at the bad treatment of Moti, the Solomon Islands’ Attorney General elect was left for twelve hours in a prison cell with murderers.
It was a cell that stank of human faeces, urine and sweat. He had not been allowed a shower or a change of clothes.
Ominously, that afternoon, Moti had also been made aware of plans to keep him away from Honiara. If he was to believe Assaigo he had every reason to fear for his life. In Moti’s affidavit to the Queensland Supreme Court he recounts this conversation that occurred at Boroko Police Station:
You watch your back, Moti,
“The stakes are high. You’ll be finished. This whole intervention is making a lot of Aussies very rich. We’ve kicked them out. [most likely talking of the aborted Enhanced Cooperation Program], they’re kicking you and Sogavare out before you guys can kick them out too.”
Late that afternoon, by the time Moti was released on bail, he was shaken and physically ill. The lawyer’s confidence had deserted him. Clearly, the law could not be relied on to keep him safe. He was a marked man.
There is no doubt that Moti has been the victim of a shameful political power struggle – the High Court of Australia recognized that when they ruled in his favour.
And it didn’t begin and end in Australia – this was a political power struggle in which, Sir Michael Somare, then the Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, chose to aid the Australian authorities to break Papua New Guinean laws to achieve their ends in spite of the breach of Papua New Guinean sovereignty.
It is mooted (in two commissions of Inquiry) that Sir Michael then broke more laws to get rid of Moti before the Papua New Guinea courts had the opportunity to scrutinize his illegal co-operation with the Australians in what has become to be known as ‘The Moti Saga’.
The human consequences
By now, he should be a Judge, an International Jurist or even the Secretary-General of the Melanesian Spearhead Group.
These would have been the reasonable aspirations of Julian Moti (QC), the former Attorney-General of the Solomon Islands; after all, he was always a strong advocate of the sovereign rights of Melanesian Nations.
It was a passion for which he paid dearly.
Because, instead of this stellar career trajectory, Moti is living hand to mouth, in his native Fiji, trying to patch up a career that will never recover from the stigma of the charges dredged up by Australia (under a different statute) that the Vanuatu courts had dealt with and dismissed a decade previously.
It was abuse of power by the Australian authorities in their bid to dominate the politics of the Pacific that halted the career and fortunes of Julian Moti It was ‘abuse of process’ that the High Court of Australia found when it granted a permanent stay of prosecution to Moti at the end of 2011 on the regurgitated Australian charges of sex with a minor that the Vanuatu courts had thrown out over a decade previously.
You don’t bounce back easily from charges of this nature. Just the accusation is enough to unfairly stain your character irrevocably.
For the Australian authorities, the nature of the charges was fortunate – it was an effective smokescreen for the political motivations that drove this prosecution
In 2006, Moti was Attorney-General of the Solomon Islands; the current Prime Minister, Manasseh Sogavare was Prime Minister then too. Both nationalistic in their politics and vehemently opposed to the Regional Assistance to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) – they wanted them out. Moti is recorded to have said,
RAMSI came to do good, but stayed to do well.
On 29 September 2006, Moti was at Jacksons Airport, Port Moresby in transit to Honiara (from India via Singapore) where Sogavare was facing a vote of no confidence for which he needed his Attorney-General’s advice.
It was a motion that the Australians were hoping would be successful – having an antagonistic Prime Minister in the Solomon Islands did not suit their purposes. Under the circumstances, the last thing they wanted was Moti’s considerable influence and political expertise to come into play. So they made sure it wasn’t and didn’t – with the aid of Papua New Guinea.
Moti in Papua New Guinea.
The belief in the sovereign rights of Melanesian countries is what Moti says disappoints him so profoundly about what happened in PNG. Moti explained:
I know in what great esteem the people of Papua New Guinea hold the Mama Lo – and yet here were the PNG authorities arresting someone without a warrant, taking them into the country, against their will and without the necessary documentation [such as visas] on the request of a foreign authority pursuant to an out-dated Extradition Act [and therefore illegally], while charging him with a crime over which they held no jurisdiction.
What am I doing here?
was the question Moti asked repeatedly of the PNG authorities.
Moti was in PNG unwillingly and illegally by the express authority of Don Polye (Deputy Prime Minister) acting for Sir Michael Somare (Prime Minister) and most likely in consultation. (Sir Michael was away in the Provinces at the beginning.)
I was completely shocked that the founding father of Papua New Guinea was prepared to compromise the country’s sovereignty in this manner and I’ve often wondered to what end,
In the final salvo, Moti was an unwilling participant in the clandestine PNG Defence Force flight (under the radar) that delivered him to Munda in the Western Provinces of the Solomon Islands on the eve of when he was expecting a court decision on his bail – which Moti was confident would be granted. Moti is a firm believer in the rule of law.
The court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the charges – Papua New Guinea cannot prosecute a case originating in Vanuatu – even if they could, there would be the problem of double jeopardy,
he explained. Nevertheless…
Just before dawn on October 10 2006, Moti found himself landed on the tarmac at Munda airport in the West of the Solomon Islands.
He had been dumped in the middle of Papua New Guinea police armed with machine guns who were confronted by a RAMSI Land cruiser obstructing the runway. The Australians were waving revolvers and shouting threats.
It was a terrifying event to witness,” wrote Moti. “I was afraid I’d be shot in the crossfire.
That previous evening, the now late Joseph Assaigo, Intelligence Branch Chief at the Office of the Prime Minister, had called to the Solomon Islands Chancellery (where Moti had sought diplomatic asylum) to tell Moti that the government could no longer guarantee his safety. A secret operation had been planned and Moti should be ready. The terms were not negotiable.
Sir Michael has never explained nor answered for his role in the Moti Affair, in spite of two inquiries implicating him.
Was the illegal, clandestine flight an attempt to deny the PNG courts the opportunity to scrutinize the executive decisions of the Somare government is a question that Moti has often asked and contemplated with this writer.
Making it right
Many PNG laws were flouted to placate Australian political ambitions in the Pacific (as the Ombudsman’s Commission Report attests and admits) – and Moti believes he is owed an explanation as well as compensation.
Sir Michael was compensated for being ousted from his position as Prime Minister to the tune of K5 million
I am left wondering why I am the only one to have suffered the consequences of this blight on Pacific politics – while others, who have been far more culpable, have escaped scott free?
In other jurisdictions: Moti’s Australian claim was referred to mediation under the terms of a confidential agreement with the Commonwealth Government while the former Gordon Darcy-led Solomon Islands Government publicly admitted its liability (in Parliament) to pay compensation and outstanding remuneration but Moti is still awaiting payment.
She had been hacked with a machete – opened up from her sternum to her pelvis. Her intestines were exposed and spilling out from her cut abdomen. She’d been disemboweled.
The graphic pictures that appeared on Facebook came with the explanation that this was done to her, by her husband, in retaliation for adultery.
Were it in the Middle East, we’d shake our heads and maybe say: “It’s typical of those radical Muslims with their Sharia Law and their lack of respect for women,” wouldn’t we?”
Well it wasn’t. This occurred in a stridently Christian country from where it is said that at low tide, one can walk to Australia
It happened on Australia’s doorstep
It occurred in Papua New Guinea – where atrocities against women happen regularly and despite being Australia’s closest neighbour and the recipient of upwards of $450 million of Australian aid annually, these things are seldom reported.
What’s more, the PNG press themselves are often apathetic and fail to report. There is not nearly enough outrage. The PNG press contains a cross section of the community at large, many who’d consider that the arbitrary punishment fit the crime (and would be able to quote the bible passage that backs their assertion.) The status of women in PNG is abysmally low.