Guns Drawn As Australians Try To Nab Moti

The book ‘Redeeming Moti’ will be launched in Suva on Thursday. Investigative journalist and commentator Susan Merrell tells the inside story of Australian official and Federal Police persecution of the
06 May 2017 11:00
Guns Drawn As Australians Try To Nab Moti
Julian Moti (middle), with Fiji Law Society president Laurel Vaurasi and iTaukei Land Trust Board Secretary, Sevuloni Takele. Photo: Julian Moti

The book ‘Redeeming Moti’ will be launched in Suva on Thursday.

Investigative journalist and commentator Susan Merrell tells the inside story of Australian official and Federal Police persecution of the Fijian-born international constitutional law expert.

Here’s an excerpt from ‘Redeeming Moti’, published with permission.


Julian had been illegally detained in Papua New Guinea by the PNG police acting under orders from Australian officials while he was in transit from India to the Solomon Islands to take up his position as Attorney General on 29 September 2006.  Fearing for his life, he sought political asylum in the Solomon Island Consulate in Port Moresby while awaiting the outcome of his case in the PNG courts. But his wait was interrupted

Just before dawn on October 10, Julian found himself on the tarmac at Munda airport in the West of the Solomon Islands.

He was in the middle of Papua New Guinea police armed with machine guns as they confronted a RAMSI Land Cruiser obstructing the runway. The Australians were waving revolvers and shouting threats.

“It was a terrifying event to witness,” wrote Julian. 
“I was afraid we’d be shot in the crossfire.”

It had all started when Assaigo [the PNG official liaising with Julian] called to the chancellery the previous evening and told Julian that intelligence reports had uncovered plans for his abduction from a group of paid ‘raskols’.

Australian government officials had promised them a bounty for Julian’s capture. He told Julian that the government could no longer guarantee his safety and a secret operation had been planned and that he should be ready. The terms were not negotiable.

Around midnight there was a knock at the door. It was an armed escort. They drove Julian to a Defence Force hangar where he boarded the flight that would take him to Munda.

This was not how he had wanted to arrive in his new homeland. He hadn’t been given much choice.

Munda airport is the regional airport servicing the Western Province of the Solomon Islands. It’s on New Georgia Island and is the drop off point for Gizo, a well-loved tourist spot where sunken wrecks, grace of the battles of the Second World War fought there, make for excellent deep-sea diving.

When Julian flew into Munda on the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) aircraft the recent upgrades to bring the airport up to international standards, as a back up for Hendersons Airport in Honiara, had not been started.It still had a slippery runway made mostly of coral and precious few facilities.

Even so, a contingent of RAMSI officers was there, waiting in anticipation of Julian’s arrival. How they knew to expect him has never been established. It was 5 am and it was still dark when the plane arrived.

The PNGDF Officers did what they’d been ordered to do; they landed and dropped their cargo. Julian was in the company of the two political advisors to the Solomon Islands’ Government that had been dispatched to Port Moresby to assist him – Sogavare’s nephew, Robson Djokovic and Chris Hapa.

The RAMSI Land Cruiser was quick to make its move, driving onto the runway, lights on high beam, revolvers drawn, to block the aircrafts take off. But the PNGDF had their orders:

“Get in there, drop the copra bags [code for Julian and co] and get out,” and that’s what they were going to do.

The plane revved its engines and, in response to the RAMSI pistols, out of the windows of the airplane the soldiers of the PNGDF aimed their machine guns.

Outgunned, the RAMSI Land Cruiser retreated; the plane took off and disappeared into the dawning sky.

In the meantime, Julian and his two compatriots had found a place, under a tree, to wait for the immigration offices to open

As Julian had had his passport confiscated in Papua New Guinea, he needed to pick up the ‘Exemption Certificate’ that had been prepared for his arrival by the then Solomon Islands Minister for Immigration, Peter Shanel.

Although this was not totally necessary given that his refugee status had been established when he was in Port Moresby enabling him to enter the country with no paperwork, and, as a government employee he was automatically exempt; given the circumstances that surrounded his landing the government had decided to err in favour of abundance and issued an exemption anyway.

As soon as the Immigration Officer was at his desk, Djokovic presented himself to collect the paperwork.

Around the office had gathered a crowd of onlookers, peering in the windows, trying to get a glimpse of the person that had arrived. It was not only RAMSI who had had forward warning – the locals had heard the plane land, the engines revving and were curious.

Julian had been to Munda before, he was well known and liked. So, although police were on hand to detain Julian as pertheir orders, (having been told, erroneously, that there was no exemption certificate) they refused to either handcuff him or lock him in the cells.

“I can’t lock you up,” said the senior Policeman on duty to Julian, “you are my boss.”

He gave the three men free use of the premises and made them comfortable with cool drinks and even provided fish and chips for lunch. They were there waiting on a helicopter with the Police Chief, Shane Castles, to arrive from Honiara. It arrived late afternoon.

Shane Castles was an Australian appointee to the position and funded by Australia. In his position, he was answerable to the Solomon Islands’ Government but his actions were often more consistent with someone whose allegiances had never left Canberra – and Canberra did not want Julian politically involved in the Solomon Islands.

So it came as no surprise to Julian, that Castles, when he arrived, insisted that the men not only be handcuffed but also put in leg irons to walk to the helicopter. It was humiliating and it was unnecessary.

The Australian Aboriginal pilot of the chopper told the police chief, in no uncertain terms, that no one would be flying in his helicopter wearing such restraints: it was a safety issue.

The police chief had been outranked and while they were removing the irons he gave Julian a wink. Julian has never forgotten his kindness, which included offering the ‘arrested’ men fruit and water for the long flight back to Honiara.

And a long flight it was.

Julian and his two fellows were nearing exhaustion, especially Julian who was still in the same clothes that he had arrived into Port Moresby wearing on 29th September, he had never gotten his suitcases back. That was 11 days previously.

And if they had any hope of slipping into Honiara quietly, it was not going to happen. Their arrival had become an international media event, co-ordinated by RAMSI to display their superior policing abilities. They had won – they’d got him and they wanted the world to know – the more humiliating for Julian, the better.




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