SUSAN MERRELL in Brisbane
A SUPREME court heard last Friday that large cash payments were made to witnesses by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), supposedly for “living expenses” in the Moti hearing.
It was also pointed out that the payments amounted to more than 26 times the average wage in Vanuatu where the majority of the witnesses reside.
The revelation may be the proof of “abuse of process” that the court needs to grant a permanent stay of proceedings in the hearing of the former Solomon Islands attorney-general Julian Moti.
Justice Debra Mullins expressed concern at both the number of witnesses being paid and the “quantum”.
Furthermore, the payments were made, and at times increased, according to the demand of the principal witness, the court heard.
On more than one occasion the witness threatened, that if her demands were not met accordingly, she would withdraw her complaint and go to the media claiming that the prosecution was using her as
a tool for political and neo-colonial reasons.“The aim of all this was to put in the government of your choice in the Solomons,” she put in an email to AFP agent Sally MacDonald while stating her terms for
co-operation were not negotiable.
Moti’s counsel is arguing that the prosecution of his client for a second time – on similar charges arising from the same alleged incident and that were dismissed a decade ago in Vanuatu – is vexatious and oppressive and an abuse of process that brings the administration of justice into disrepute.
The defence had highlighted double jeopardy, an illegal deportation and improper political motivations as further grounds for granting the stay but it was to the question of witness payments that justice Mullins addressed her overwhelming concern and returned to repeatedly.
When the prosecution suggested that instead of the court granting the permanent stay, the AFP could stop or reduce the payments, justice Mullins said “if it’s not stayed, it’s going to be a very difficult prosecution”.
Justice Mullins reserved her decision and has given the lawyers 14 days to lodge any further documents they would like taken into consideration.