17 Feb 2006

Former Solomon Islands government minister finally released on bail on fourth application

6:17 pm on 17 February 2006

A former Solomon Islands cabinet minister facing a number of serious criminal charges, has been granted bail for the first time on the fourth application.

Alex Bartlett, a former foreign and agriculture minister, was arrested in September 2004 on a raft of charges including arson, forgery, possession of firearms and receiving stolen property.

The charges relate to the era of ethnic tension in the Solomons during which Mr Bartlett was closely linked the Malaitan Eagle Force.

Our Honiara correspondent, Dorothy Wickham, says Justice Frank Kabui felt Mr Bartlett had been detained long enough.

"He based most of his judgement on Mr Bartlett's health. There were very strong recommendations made by the prison doctor that Mr Bartlett was unwell, that he has high blood pressure and there was a threat of a stroke or heart attack. And the three previous judgements had been based on the fact that he was still a risk and that he would interfere with witnesses. Justice Kabui said that the circumstances had changed. All the cases now have been prepared in such a way that all the statements and everything had been done for his committal. So he felt that it wouldn't have any effect on his release."

Dorothy Wickham in Honiara.

Mr Bartlett's trial has been set down for September.