Thu, Oct 12, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Moti arrested in Solomon Islands, faces extradition

AP , HONIARA

A fugitive lawyer wanted on child sex charges in Australia and at the center of a South Pacific diplomatic row failed yesterday to have the judge in his Solomon Islands immigration case disqualified.

Julian Moti asked his lawyer to seek magistrate John Myers' removal from his case, claiming that because of the separate charges against him in Australia, it would be impossible for Myers -- an Australian posted to the Solomons on an Australian-led peacekeeping mission -- to remain impartial.

Myers dismissed the request.

Solomon Islands' police arrested Moti early on Tuesday after he arrived in the Western Province town of Munda on a Papua New Guinea military plane.

Moti, an Australian citizen, had spent the past week hiding in the Solomons' High Commission in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea. Police there had arrested him on an Australian warrant for alleged sex offenses against a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu, in 1997, but he jumped bail and took refuge at the consulate.

The 41-year-old lawyer -- recently appointed then suspended as the Solomon Islands' attorney general -- was arrested and charged yesterday with entering the Solomon Islands without a passport.

Australia wants Moti extradited to face criminal charges, and recently canceled his passport to prevent him from fleeing overseas.

The Solomons' prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, a close friend of Moti, has strongly backed the lawyer, accusing Canberra of being politically motivated in pursuing the case against him.

Moti appeared in good spirits yesterday as he chatted with his lawyer Charles Ashley from a caged cell in the courtroom.

Myers appeared incredulous at Ashley's request that he step down.

"Are you saying I'm not independent or impartial based on the source of funding of my salary?" Myers asked.

"The fact that another government pays my salary does not raise any apprehension. I am an Australian citizen and also a judicial officer appointed by the Solomon Islands government," Myers said, as he dismissed the request.

Moti was ordered to remain in police custody for 14 days pending an appeal of Myers' decision.

Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty denied the Australian arrest warrant was politically driven.

Australian police have been interviewing the alleged victim of sexual abuse, now aged 21, and presenting evidence to the nation's top prosecutor throughout the year, Keelty said in Canberra.

"It had absolutely nothing to do with the intended appointment of Moti as attorney general in the Solomon Islands and indeed all of our activity [in questioning the alleged victim] ... was even before the Sogavare government was put in place," Keelty said.

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