Wed, Oct 11, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Australian lawyer on the run escapes to Solomon Islands

AP , HONIARA

A lawyer wanted on child sex charges in Australia and for skipping bail in Papua New Guinea escaped to the Solomon Islands yesterday, where the prime minister wants him appointed as the top law official.

Julian Moti, at the center of a three-way diplomatic row between the two South Pacific islands states and the regional power, Australia, was detained when he arrived in the Solomons on board a Papua New Guinea military plane, officials said.

Moti, an Australian citizen whose passport has been canceled, is being held while his immigration status is decided, Solomons police Sergeant Godfrey Abia told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's press secretary Deli Oso said the leader was aware that Moti had been detained and "is looking at resolving the situation."

Sogavare last week defied Australia's bid to extradite Moti from Papua New Guinea, giving Moti refuge in the Solomons' diplomatic mission there and insisting his appointment as the country's attorney general would stand.

Moti was arrested Sept. 29 in Papua New Guinea at the request of Canberra, where officials want to try him for an alleged sexual assault on a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu in 1997.

Moti skipped bail in Papua New Guinea and hid in the Solomons' high commission for 11 days, until his pre-dawn flight yesterday.

The row widened when Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare sided with Sogavare and threatened to punish the police who arrested Moti, despite a warrant issued after he missed a court appearance.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Canberra would continue to push hard for Moti's extradition and scolded the Solomons and Papua New Guinea for helping the fugitive.

The case showed "there are serious problems with the upholding of law in some parts of the Pacific," Downer told parliament, noting that Canberra gave Papua New Guinea aid totaling A$300 million (US$223 million) a year and had spent A$800 million on a peacekeeping force in the Solomons.

He said the Papua New Guinea military flight that carried Moti to the Solomons appeared to contravene the country's own law and that it seemed to have happened without Somare's knowledge.

At a news conference earlier, Downer said Moti should be sent to Australia to face justice.

"We will continue to pursue him and ... however long it takes us, we will succeed," he said.

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