A major three-way diplomatic spat is brewing in Australasia over an Indian origin lawyer who had jumped bail in Papua New Guinea last week.
Julian Moti, 41, the newly appointed attorney-general of the Pacific nation of Solomon Islands, was arrested last Friday by the Papua New Guinea police from the airport in the country's capital Port Moresby. He was on transit to the Solomon Islands, when the request to arrest him came from Australian authorities.
He was subsequently granted bail but did not appear in court. He was found missing from the hotel in Port Moresby where he was put up and is now believed to be under diplomatic protection at the Solomon Islands high commission in Papua New Guinea.
Australia has sought the extradition of Moti, an Australian citizen, from Papua New Guinea on an earlier charge of child sex in another Pacific nation, Vanuatu.
This had soured relations between Australia and the Solomon Islands with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of Solomon Islands, who also happens to be a personal friend of Moti, stating that Australia's action "is a serious violation of the sovereignty of the Solomon Islands and a disregard of established institutions".
Now, according to reports, the case has got a fresh twist with Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare too siding with the Solomon Islands.
"Now, if it is Australia's case, it should be dealt with in Australia and the Solomon Islands. They came here and we have no law under our Act to hold people in ransom," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
"He (Moti) came here, he is to have a free passage from us to go to Solomon Islands," a report in Papua New Guinea's Post Courier newspaper quoted Sir Michael as saying.
Moti is an Indo-Fijian who acquired Australian citizenship after graduating in law from that country. His new posting in the Solomon Islands had come in for severe flak from various quarters, both within the islands and outside, notably the Australian government.
He had been charged with raping a 13-year-old girl in Vanuatu, for which Australia is seeking him. Moti, however, says that he had settled the case after the victim's family initiated a civil action suit against him.
In 2003, Moti was banned from entering the Solomon Islands, a country of nearly 1,000 small islands east of Papua New Guinea, for interfering in domestic issues.
This year he was seen as the man behind the move to expel the Australian high commissioner from the Solomon Islands.
Meanwhile, in a fresh broadside, Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said Thursday that he would not bow to Canberra's "bullying tactics" by sacking Moti over the Australian charges.
"I will not be swayed by attempts by Australia to keep Moti from coming to take up his appointment," an AFP report quoted Sogavare as saying.