The Australian Federal Police has become engulfed in a political furore in Solomon Islands after the country’s Opposition Leader accused it of renting a property from a key government MP and powerbroker for a hugely inflated price.
- Matthew Wale says the AFP rented a “beachfront property” from a close ally of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare for just over $35,000 a month
- Mr Wale is declining to provide documentation to support the allegation
- The AFP denies any wrongdoing or paying an inflated price for the rental property
However, the allegation has been forcefully rejected by the AFP and sources in the Solomon Islands government.
On Thursday, the Democratic Party’s leader, Matthew Wale, put out a press release alleging that the AFP had rented a “beachfront property” owned by Namson Tran, a close ally of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, for just over $35,000 a month.
“The AFP’s deal with this Solomon Islands government politician raises a lot of questions surrounding their independence and … is likely to undermine the public’s perception of their work in Honiara,” Mr Wale said.
He also alleged that it was “ethically not right for AFP, or any foreign police force for that matter, to undertake business deals with any Solomon Islands politician”.
“The AFP should clarify their business deals with [Mr] Tran on this property as it clearly jeopardises AFP’s mission here in Solomon Islands. If AFP is striking deals with government MPs, then it surely compromises their work here,” he said.
The ABC has asked Mr Wale’s office to provide documentation supporting the allegation but they declined.
Meanwhile, the AFP confirmed to the ABC that it had leased a block of land in Honiara “to support ongoing operational requirements”, although it did not provide further details.
However, it denied any wrongdoing or paying an inflated price for the rental property.
“Any suggestion the AFP has not acted with integrity in this matter is categorically false,” an AFP spokesperson said in a statement.
That statement did not say how much it paid for the land, saying it was “limited in what further information it can provide, due to commercial-in-confidence issues”.
However, the ABC understands the $35,000 monthly figure cited by Mr Wale is vastly higher than the sum actually paid by the AFP.
The ABC contacted Mr Tran’s office in Solomon Islands, but the MP declined to respond to Mr Wale’s accusations, or to provide any comment.
While the Solomon Islands government said it would issue a statement to the ABC in response, it has yet to do so.
The episode is another demonstration of how strained Australia’s ties are with major players on both sides of the political divide in Solomon Islands right now.
Mr Wale has been a fierce critic of Mr Sogavare’s move to sign a security pact with China, which has stirred great anxiety in Australia.
However, he has also accused the Australian government of ignoring warnings that he gave last year about the prospect of China and Solomon Islands strengthening security ties.
That drew a strong reaction from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which took the rare step of issuing a statement directly rejecting Mr Wale’s account, and insisting the Opposition Leader had never directly raised the subject with the department.
The China-Solomon Islands security pact is likely to hit the headlines again next week, with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi expected to visit Honiara on the first leg of his trip through the Pacific.