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Solomon Islands Opposition Leader accuses AFP of renting property from government MP for inflated price

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 20/05/2022 By foreign affairs reporter Stephen Dziedzic and Evan Wasuka

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.

However, the allegation has been forcefully rejected by the AFP and 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.

A statement from the Solomon Islands government on behalf of Mr Tran rejected Mr Wale's allegation as "full of concocted lies".

The statement said the AFP had approached Mr Tran last year and leased the property for what it said was a market rate of $SBD26,000 ($4,528) per month.

"The lease agreement was signed where a monthly Withholding Tax of 10 per cent of $SBD26,000 is paid monthly to the Solomon Islands Government," it said.

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".

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.

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