13 Jun 2007

Solomons opposition leader admits paying minister, saying it was school fee

4:57 pm on 13 June 2007

The Solomon Islands opposition leader, Fred Fono, has admitted paying about 7,000 US dollars to a government minister, but denies it was a bribe aimed at making him change political allegiance.

Radio Australia reports Mr Fono as saying he paid the money in response to the minister's plea for financial help to send his son to school in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare last week accused the opposition of targeting seven of his ministers with cash bribes to change sides.

He displayed 50,000 Solomon dollars, or about 7,000 US dollars, to the media, allegedly paid by an opposition agent to a minister to persuade him to swap sides.

The minister had handed the money into the Prime Minister's office.

Mr Fono says he paid the money in good faith and has written evidence that the minister had requested financial assistance.

He says he supports Mr Sogavare's plans to refer the matter to police who have yet to receive a formal complaint from the prime minister's office.

Mr Sogavare has called the alleged bribery a disgusting strategy to overthrow what he called his God-protected coalition government.