Sat, Oct 21, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Australian police search office of Solomons PM

DIPLOMATIC FALLOUT The raid, conducted at the behest of Solomon Islands courts, is expected to worsen already tense relations between Canberra and Honiara

AP , HONIARA

Australian police in the Solomon Islands raided the office of the country's prime minister yesterday looking for evidence that he helped an international fugitive escape custody in Papua New Guinea, a senior official said.

Australian police, who are deployed to Solomon Islands at that government's request to help curb unrest and maintain law and order, forced their way into Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare's office by kicking down a door, Finance Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo said.

The officers seized a fax machine supposedly used to send a document that helped Australian citizen Julian Moti -- wanted in Australia on child sex charges -- leave Papua New Guinea amid a dispute among the three countries over returning Moti to Australia, Lilo said.

"The office door got booted down, you don't do that to the prime minister of any country," Lilo told reporters outside the prime minister's office. "They used excessive force."

Sogavare was not present at the time.

The raid -- carried out at the behest of Solomon Islands courts -- will worsen the plummeting relations between the governments of Sogavare and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, both of whom are due to attend a meeting of South Pacific leaders in Fiji next week.

The warrant to search Soga-vare's office was part of Solomon Islands court proceedings against the country's minister responsible for immigration, Peter Shannel, who is charged with perverting the course of justice in connection to an order exempting Moti from immigration charges.

Prosecutors allege Shannel lied to police about the order, which the government claims allowed Moti to enter the Solomons legally despite Australia canceling his passport because of the child sex charges. Moti has been in custody in the Solomons pending a court decision on the validity of his entry.

A judge yesterday ruled that Moti would be released on bail. Canberra has accused the Solomons and elements of the Papua New Guinea government of shielding him from justice.

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