AUSTRALIA’S pursuit of Julian Moti, QC, has come to a shabby end in the High Court after eight bizarre years. The Fiji-born Australian lawyer has now averted trial on child sex charges because, said the court, his deportation from the Solomon Islands in 2007 was so bungled by Canberra that any trial would be an abuse of process.
A new government in Honiara anxious to rid itself of a man just sacked as attorney-general, declared Mr Moti “an undesirable person who has conducted himself in a manner prejudicial to the peace, public order, public morality, security and good government of Solomon Islands” and bundled him onto a plane for Brisbane.
They jumped the gun. Local law gave Mr Moti seven days to consider an appeal. The mistake was Honiara’s but Canberra connived in it by providing the necessary paperwork for Mr Moti and his guards to land in Brisbane. So a chase that cost a fortune, soured this country’s relations with both PNG and the Solomons and then tied up Australian courts for years has come to nothing.
Canberra might never have worried about Mr Moti and his alleged crimes except that he became involved in the turbulent politics of the Solomon Islands in the aftermath of RAMSI, the 2003 military and police intervention led by Australia that restored order to those troubled islands.
Documents that emerged during the Moti litigation show Australian officials were soon worried that the Sydney University graduate might win a place in a future government led by his friend Manasseh Sogavare, a former prime minister and implacable opponent of RAMSI (the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands).
By 2005, Australian Federal Police were raking over failed attempts in Vanuatu in the late 1990s to prosecute Mr Moti following allegations that he had had sexual relations with a 13-year old girl, had raped and beaten her, and forced her to have an abortion.
The Herald has seen six disturbing statements the girl made over several months. All are in English, though it appears she only spoke French. None was in her own writing. None was sworn. The underlying allegation does not change from statement to statement, but details are contradictory. Others appear fanciful.
Mr Moti was never tried. After a number of legal manoeuvres, a magistrate in Port Villa dismissed all charges without giving reasons. That might have been the end of the matter but five years later the Australian Federal Police interviewed the alleged victim and decided to prosecute Mr Moti in Australia as a sex tourist.
Australia’s worst fears had been realised by this time: Mr Sogavare had come to power in Honiara and made Mr Moti his attorney-general. A week later, the new minister was arrested at Canberra’s request while in transit through Papua New Guinea. He skipped bail, hid in the Solomon Islands High Commission and was secretly flown back to Honiara by the PNG Defence Force.
The pursuit of Mr Moti was exacting a high diplomatic price. The then foreign minister, Alexander Downer, was seen to be attacking three Pacific nations: Vanuatu for not trying the man in the first place; the Solomons for making him attorney-general; and PNG for preventing his extradition to Australia.
Canberra had to wait another year until the fall of the Sogavare government, which led to Mr Moti’s sacking from the cabinet and his over-hasty deportation a few days after Christmas 2007.
Back in Brisbane he was charged with seven counts of engaging in sexual intercourse with a person under 16 while outside Australia.
Sydney QC Ian Barker, who had been representing Mr Moti since his first trials in Vanuatu, persuaded the Queensland Supreme Court to stay all proceedings against his client on the ground that the evidence against him had been corrupted by large payments made by the Australian Federal Police to the alleged victim and her family.
The Queensland Court of Appeal overturned this decision in July last year. That led to the present High Court appeal, with six of the seven judges upholding the Queensland court’s finding that the AFP payments “were not designed to, and did not, procure evidence from the prosecution witnesses”.
But the same six judges also decided that “Australian officials facilitated the unlawful deportation of [Mr Moti] by supplying a travel document relating to him (and travel documents for those who would accompany him) at a time when it was known that the documents would be used to effect the unlawful deportation”.
Mr Moti is home free. He will never now face trial on those sex charges. He was not available yesterday for comment.