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Family of NZ economist blast 'farce' trial amid claims of paid-off witnesses

Author
Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 31 May 2023, 11:17am
New Zealand economist Rob Solomon denies the charges which have landed him in prison on the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) island of Pohnpei.
New Zealand economist Rob Solomon denies the charges which have landed him in prison on the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) island of Pohnpei.

Family of NZ economist blast 'farce' trial amid claims of paid-off witnesses

Author
Kurt Bayer, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 31 May 2023, 11:17am

The family of a Kiwi economist detained in a Micronesian jail on sex and child trafficking allegations for over a year has blasted a prolonged judicial process as a “farce” amid claims that witnesses have been paid to testify against him.

Rob Solomon, 61, had been living in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) and working as a macroeconomist consultant to the government when he was arrested in December 2021 – and then again last March - on a range of criminal charges including human and child trafficking, kidnapping, and sexual abuse charges.

Pohnpei prosecutors alleged that Solomon, who had been a close adviser to the FSM president, had lured an underage girl to his house or apartment and “engaged in sexual activities for money”.

But his trial has been adjourned and delayed several times while a 17-year-old girl who had made serious sexual allegations against Solomon has since recanted her claims.

Now, his Dunedin-based mother and sister have been told of new “evidence” that witnesses have been paid to testify and that testimony has been falsified.

“The trial is such a farce... the judge doesn’t seem to want to listen,” said Solomon’s sister Donna.

After Solomon’s arrest in December 2021, FSM president David W. Panuelo released a statement, saying he had “full faith and confidence” in the Pohnpei State Government and its judicial branches “to fulfil their duties to the highest degree of honour in the search for truth and the delivery of justice”.

Rob Solomon has spent years working as an economic consultant in the Pacific region. Photo / Supplied

Rob Solomon has spent years working as an economic consultant in the Pacific region. Photo / Supplied

Solomon’s original trial date was set for April 12 last year – but was delayed until September 6.

However, on the first day of the trial, it was postponed after just 45 minutes of the first police witness’ evidence.

And then a month later on the second day of trial, it was postponed after just 50 minutes.

“Rob’s a laid-back guy with a lot of patience and is mentally very strong, but this is being tested to the maximum and it is only the fact that he has been unjustly charged and his firm belief that justice will prevail which is keeping him sane,” said Donna Solomon.

“This positivity, however, can only last for so long when being so wrongfully detained and we do worry about the mental and physical toll this is taking on him.”

Friends are calling for his immediate release. Photo / Supplied

Friends are calling for his immediate release. Photo / Supplied

Rob Solomon's prison cell which he shares with another inmate. Photo / Supplied

Rob Solomon's prison cell which he shares with another inmate. Photo / Supplied

His sister and 80-year-old mother have been unable to speak to him personally since his arrest, which left them “stunned, shocked” and in disbelief.

They are thankful for a local friend of Solomon’s who brings him books, coffee and food once a week. He also has a new lawyer.

The Herald first reported on Solomon’s plight back in February, with friends saying he is the victim of “trumped-up charges”.

For the past 14 months, the Dunedin-born economic adviser has been kept inside a tiny prison cell with limited access to sunlight or the outside world.

It’s understood that he has even shared a cramped jail room, sleeping on roll-up mattresses, with a man serving 15 years for murder.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said that consular officials - believed to include the New Zealand Consulate-General in Honolulu - is aware of Solomon’s situation.

However, it has refused to make any further comment, citing privacy reasons.

His family are critical of the New Zealand Government and what they perceive as gross inaction.

“We are at a loss of how to help him and where to go to get help,” said Donna Solomon.

“Rob has worked and lived in the Pacific Islands for approximately 30 years and has done great work over this time.

“He is a well-respected government advisor and has done an enormous amount of work on behalf of these small nations to improve their local economy.

“It is hard to believe that a man with this respect and mana has had absolutely no support from the New Zealand Government.”

She added: “He’s innocent and we want him out and home ASAP.”

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