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The Moti illegal deportation: the real story

BY SUSAN MERRELL

THIS WEEK in Canberra, a full bench of the High Court of Australia is set to hear an appeal by Solomon Islands’ former Attorney General, Julian Moti.

As well as considering the overturned verdict that excessive payments to witnesses “brought the administration of justice into disrepute,” the court will also consider whether Australian authorities “connived and colluded” in the illegal deportation of Mr Moti from the Solomon Islands.

[Mr Moti was taken under police escort to Brisbane into the hands of the awaiting Australian Federal Police (AFP) where he was arrested on 27 December 2007.]

In late 2009, the Supreme court of Queensland ruled that while the deportation was illegal, Australian officials did not interfere in the process – the knowing perpetrator of this illegality was the Solomon Islands government: in particular the permanent secretary of immigration (now the permanent secretary of civil aviation), Jeffrey Wickham. 

That Australian officials also ‘knew’ of the illegality and, at the very least, turned a blind eye did not seem to faze presiding judge, Justice Debra Mullins.

Both the then acting Australian High Commissioner, Heidi Bootle and the then Senior Liaison Officer (SLO), with the AFP testified in court that it was Jeffrey Wickham in his official capacity who gave the orders for deportation in contravention of a court order that gave Moti seven days to appeal the deportation decision.

In recent months Wickham has voiced his concern at being cast as the Australian ‘fall guy’.  He expressed these concerns firstly in a letter to the editor of the Solomon Star and, latterly, speaking from Honiara last week:

“This was not a normal case,” Wickham explained– it was an extraordinary one.  There was a lot of pressure.”

So, from where did this pressure emanate and what made it such an extraordinary case?  The implication is that there was a great deal more activity by Australian authorities than merely ‘turning a blind eye’ but as a public servant, Wickham is officially gagged – unable to defend himself in the press.

Indeed the correct forum for his evidence would have been Brisbane’s Supreme Court – but the man at the centre of this controversy, Jeffrey Wickham, was never called. A potentially opposing Solomon Islands’ perspective was thus never sought.   

Mr Wickham concluded the interview by stating that acting in his official capacity he is not a private citizen and he merely follows orders.  He stated incredulously:

“As if I’m the government! As if I’m the cabinet! Other people should come out and say what really happened.”

He’s right.  It was the job of the Australian Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecution (CDPP) to uncover the truth.  But maybe the truth might have proved a little too inconvenient.

Connivance and collusion?  You decide.   But here are our investigations which reveal the pressure points:

 

6 December 2007

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) convenes meeting in Canberra. In attendance AFP, CDPP’s Mark De Crespigny and Attorney General’s Department (AGD).

Subject: Moti

Agenda:

1 - Fresh extradition proceedings should there be a change of Solomon Islands’ government in the near future

[Question: why would the Australian authorities be preparing for a change of government?  What was their knowledge / involvement? Was there improper interference in the political process?]

2 - Deportation of Moti

[Question: why did this concern the meeting? Certainly, during the Supreme Court hearing in Brisbane, disinterest in the process was successfully pleaded.]

3 - Flight of Moti

13 December 2007

Successful vote of no confidence against government of Manasseh Sogavare.

13 – 20 December

Caretaker government under leadership of Manasseh Sogavare in control of parliament while lobbying and elections for new government were taking place. 

Government makes a formal protest against interference by RAMSI.  RAMSI stymied the uniquely Melanesian democratic process by the intimidatory manning of the gates to the Honiara Hotel and by deploying one of its own vessels to ferry and sequester parliamentarians who could have been vacillating on their support for the new (Australian-preferred) regime to Alan Kemakeza’s island.

[Question: Did the Australians already have an undertaking from this new government to deport Moti in exchange for their support? See 20 December]

14 December

AFP correspondence from Peter Bond:

CAFP [Commissioner Mick Keelty – head of AFP] visit:

Jared [Taggert – AFP], Denis [McDermott – head of Participating Police Force] has asked me to go to GBR [RAMSI base aka Guadalcanal Beach Resort] shortly to participate in a planning meeting for C visit on Tuesday [18 December]

18 December

Overnight visit by Commissioner Keelty

According to then Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare there was no prior notification of the visit or official report of the meeting to him or his government.

[Questions: Why the secrecy? Why the lack of accepted protocol?  Was Moti (who was at the time still Attorney-General,) once more on the agenda? Who else was at the meeting called for this Australian heavyweight’s fleeting visit?]

20 December

DFAT interdepartmental correspondence from Nicholas Coppel marked ‘Urgent – Moti – Secret’

Richard [Rowe] and Graeme [Wilson – head pacific Islands Branch DFAT] – PM [Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd] wants to know what Moti is doing now. Has he fled – gone into hiding?  Do we know?  What can other agencies tell us about his movements?

New Prime Minister, Dr. Derek Sikua sworn in.

21 December

Cabinet sworn in. First item on the agenda: the deportation of Julian Moti. 

[Question: Coincidence? Australian authorities knew that were Moti not deported, the extradition process would have been lengthy with no guarantee of success.]

22 December

Peter Hooten, then Australian High Commissioner takes leave of absence  – a curious decision considering the import of what transpired in the days ahead.

24 December

AFP agent Sally MacDonald applied to have Moti’s bail revoked before a JP in Queensland – putting the cart before the horse. Moti was still free in Honiara until 27 December - not on bail. This only makes sense if MacDonald was part of the cognoscenti to the original intention of the Solomon Islands’ government: for Moti to be deported on 24 December. 

[Question: With who was Sally MacDonald in cahoots?]

Prime Minister responds in parliament to a question posed by Manasseh Sogavare (opposition leader) that all the legal processes would be observed in Moti’s ‘deportation’ to Australia to “clear his name.”

In adding that rejoinder he was ignoring the fact that a state effecting a deportation should only be concerned with the removal of the person being deported not the consequences of it – otherwise it is an extradition.

______________

Furthermore, during the lead up to Moti’s deportation the Head of the Pacific Desk in Australia was none other than Patrick Cole, the former Australian High Commissioner of the Solomon Islands who was instrumental in having the Vanuatu charges revived on Moti’s mooted appointment as Attorney General. 

There is no reason to believe that the considerable documented pressure he applied in 2006 would have eased.

There are also differing accounts of the meetings on 27 December, immediately prior to Moti’s deportation. 

While court transcripts show Australian evidence naming Jeffrey Wickham as the man giving the illegal orders, including saying that Moti could “appeal the decision from Brisbane,” Wickham has no recollection of this and indeed asks “why would I say that?  It wasn’t right.”

Moreover, an intelligence report by an unnamed informant, emanating from the publicity office of the current Prime Minister, puts Matthew Wale, currently an MP in opposition, as the person in control of the decisions made at that meeting. 

The report also states that Gabriel Suri a private lawyer acting on behalf of the government notified the meeting of the ‘legal position’ which was that Moti had seven days to challenge the deportation order.  This was in direct contradiction to sworn Australian evidence saying that Suri had advised to the contrary.

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